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By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

I’m a sucker for tradition.

My personal shortlist is packed with moldy oldies: Caradoc and Marguerite, Edith and Asa.  If forced to choose Jaxon or James, Eden or Elizabeth, I’d go with James and Elizabeth, no question.

And yet there’s something appealing about the idea of choosing a completely novel name for your new arrival.  This week’s high profile birth announcements were all about the modern and the new.

It’s fitting for children who are going to grow up in a new world, one where tablets have always been digital, instead of stone.

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rockwell

Nameberry 9 by Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain

Neil Gaiman recently lectured on the future of reading and libraries and all manner of literary and imaginative things.

He didn’t utter a word specifically about names, but he’s bestowed many a memorable choice on his characters, from Coraline to Thessaly to Yvaine, Silas to Vandemar.

Gaiman did say this: “We must not attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meaning and pronunciations to change with time.”

If language is a living thing, doesn’t the same hold true for names?

Some words endure with minimal alteration, and some names do, too.  But for every Elizabeth, there’s a Samantha – a name that feels rich with history, but is actually almost unknown until the nineteenth century.  Or Brooke, a name that feels established and sophisticated, but would have been out of place a hundred years ago.

Names should evolve, and they quietly do when we’re not noticing.  Take Beatrix.  Once a rare spelling variant, she’s now at her most popular ever – and gaining on Beatrice.

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The Possibility of You

A lot of you know that, besides being the co-mistress of Nameberry, I’m a novelist.  In fact, my new book, The Possibility of You, comes out today.

While writing about names and writing historical fiction are often very different enterprises, there are times when my worlds collide.  Like when it’s time to name my characters.

For some fiction writers, character naming might be a minor consideration, somewhere above comma placement but far below such elements as title and voice and what the characters eat for dinner.

Not so for me, of course, with the character’s name being his or her most important defining characteristic.   In my view, the character’s name contains a kind of DNA code for who they are and where they come from, what they value and how they hope to change.

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