What’s in a Name?

As I talked about in a previous blog, research is a large part of the writing process, whatever genre you are writing. However, if you are writing a novel, the names you give your characters is important.

If you are writing contemporary fiction it should be fairly easy to choose your characters names – but always remember to make sure the names suit the age, social background and ethnicity of your person.

However, if you are writing fiction that is set in a different historical time, then you need to take care with your choice of name. Also, if your story travels into other countries, the names need to be appropriate.

First names are very much generational, and although there are some which don’t date or go out of fashion, some certainly do and can ruin a character’s street cred!

Check online to find the most common babies names for the year when your writing is set – there are plenty of options out there in terms of websites.

Find out which old-fashioned names are coming back into fashion. The experts say that baby names go in and out of fashion in 100-year cycles. At present, it seems names popular from around a hundred years ago are: Dorothy, Florence and Edith, and Arthur, Walter and Luther are all making a comeback.

To show some differences in names over the decades:


The Top 10 most popular girl names:

Olivia, Sophia, Lily, Amelia, Ava, Mia, Isla, Freya, Ella and Rosie.

The top 10 most popular boy names:

Muhammad, Noah, Oliver, George, Leo, Theo, Freddie, Harry, Jack and Arthur.


(The year I was born) the top 10 most popular girl names:

MargaretElizabethMary, Catherine, Anne, Linda, Helen, Patricia, Irene and Agnes.

Top 10 boy most popular names:

JohnJamesWilliamRobert, David, Thomas, Alexander, George, Ian and Brian.


(The year after my mum was born) top 10 most popular girl names:

MaryMargaret, Doris, Dorothy, Kathleen, Florence, Elsie, Edith, Elizabeth and Winifred.

Top 10 boy most popular names:

JohnWilliamGeorgeThomas, JamesArthur, Frederick, Albert, Charles and Robert.

(The names in bold are those that occur throughout the decades).

Interestingly though some of the names are popular in all of the decades there seems to be a broader range of names now – even though some of them still hark back to previous times.

My point being, when choosing names, even those who appear inconsequential characters, like aunties, uncles, or grandparents – work out when they would have been born and check that their names fit?

Another thing to consider is if the name you choose for your character carries any other meanings or connotations that could cloud their name.  Calling someone Thor might be pretty cool, but I’d be imagining the Marvel character and the person I’m reading about might not fit that at all.

A website I found particularly useful trying to find out about my own name – Lisbeth, was


It seems there are only 446 of us in England with the most prevalent use of the name in Venezuela, and the highest density in Denmark – which I found fascinating.

From another site, I found that my name means: God is my oath – the same as Elizabeth, and its origin is Hebrew. 

You can find out a lot about a name.  Therefore, research, and choose your characters names with care.