Posted by: daveed | July 14, 2008

What’s in a name

Alex Epstein, the screenwriter behind his excellent Complications Ensue: The Crafty Screenwriting Blog, serves up some good sites to mine in search of that perfect character name.

When I’m coming up with a secondary character, if I’m not trying to suggest ethnicity (MR. AZAD, CHELSEA FRIEDMAN), I’m often trying to suggest age. The Social Security website will give you the most popular names by year, and the incredibly neat Baby Name Wizard NameVoyager shows how the popularity of a given name waxes and wanes.

But many names are popular every year, e.g. Michael, Robert, William, Katherine, Margaret. Fortunately NameTrends will show you the uniquely popular names from each era. Kaden just learned to walk. Cody is probably in high school about now. Lindsay’s in college. Damon and Misty are probably having their first baby. Todd and Sherri are fighting over custody.

For my characters, I don’t necessarily think of age as much as behavior, motivations and to some extent values—perhaps it’s “emotional age” that I’m getting at. One of my favorite characters refers to himself as “Guy”. But his real name is Horatio G. Stockfleet. And the G stands for Gordon. But he’s a Guy, an on-the-fringe mediocrity. But also the everyman hero of the story, even though it takes a long time for that to emerge within his character arc.

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