Happy Thought: Behind the Name

First up in our Happy Thought series, let me introduce to you a glorious website:


If I recall correctly, I stumbled upon Behind the Name way way back in high school. One of my friends had to write a paper that talked about her name, and someone in the class found Behind the Name. Then, my friends and I spent a whole study period gathered around a computer in the library, looking up our names and laughing at what they meant. (What? We were freshmen! We had less homework.)

For instance, dear readers, Zoe means life. Hysterical, because at the time, I had stayed up late the night before reading - a very common occurrence - and I was in sleepy zombie mode. (But secretly, I've always kind of liked that about this name.)

My friend Angela's name means messenger [of God]. Which would be funny/ironic to you too if you had known her at that age.

But that day, I discovered something else: Behind the Name has a special search that lets you use the meaning to find a name. And it's the only one I found that does this. (Most of them only tell you the meaning of the name you type in.)

Which makes Behind the Name a BRILLIANT way to find character names.

At home that night, I sat glued to the family computer until my eyes were dry, scratchy, and bloodshot. I wrote long lists of potential names for my current main character, and for the MC's brother, mother, and father, and for the MC's love-interest, and for the love interest's family, etc. etc. etc.

Everybody's name had a special meaning. For example, Shira: it means poetry or singing. This character manipulated magic by - you guessed it - singing. I was terribly imaginative at fourteen. :-P

Years later, when I was looking for names with z's in them, I came up with Ziah. Which was originally derived as a nickname for Keziah, meaning cassia, ie. a spice tree (which I thought matched the character's sweet, zany, overly hyper personality). Later, in the ms, when Ziah developed magical powers which allowed her to create very small suns, I learned that Ziya meant light. V. v. cool. I was particularly impressed with this one.

I hear what you're saying there in the blogosphere, dear readers. That really wacky, "out there" names often don't work for manuscripts set in the modern-day, and many agents and editors will make you change names like these to be halfway believable.

This is true. Maybe Behind the Name isn't a great way to find your MC's name.

But it can be very helpful if say, you write middle grade fantasy-adventure (like I do), and you need a cool, exotic-sounding name for a secondary character, who happens to be a mermaid queen in Neverland.

I was stuck. Then I remembered this old site. I searched for ocean, which gave me Maris (meaning of the sea).

Queen Maris has an intimidating, imperial ring to it, don't you think? Perfect! Cool name found!

Btw, I found names for most of my other characters in another one of my other favorite things:

I picked up this old baby name book in my local thrift store. (I've noticed that they get a fair amount of them, so if you want one, you might check there first.)

Baby name books are perfect for finding character names, because it lists thousands of names divided into girl name and boy name sections. There are normal sounding ones like Jane (page 93) and Jeffrey (page 261) as well as oddball ones like Imelda (page 89) and Iram (page 256). It lists the name's meaning right next to it (which helps me decide) and also, alternate spellings (which I use sometimes to make a character's name seem different but not totally high fantasy-seeming).

Keep this handy while you're brainstorming. If you get stuck on a name for a character, you can just flip through the girl or boy section until you spot a few that will work. 

Yaaaay! I like sharing my favorite things with you guys. :-)