About Me

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Hello! I'm a writer from central New York who has bipolar disorder. Among other topics, I write about mental illness and writing. I have short stories published in Lynx Eye, Lost Coast Review, The Outrider Review, Sliver of Stone Magazine, The Mondegreen, The Linnet's Wings, Cobalt Review, Breath & Shadow, The Round Up, Postscripts to Darkness, Masque & Spectacle, and several other journals. I have a poem in The Poeming Pigeon, essays about mental illness in The Ram Boutique and Amygdala Literary Magazine, and an essay in Parts Unbound: Narratives of Mental Illness & Health, a book that was published by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. My story "Santa Lucia" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I've written three novels entitled Purple Loosestrife, Hoping It Might Be So, and Dark and Bright, all of which are as yet unpublished. I'm working on a memoir about my experiences with bipolar disorder. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in English from SUNY College at Brockport. I hope you enjoy your visit to my blog!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Resources for Naming Characters

I love coming up with names for my characters. Often, names just come to me. They sound and feel right for the character who's in my head. For example, in my novel Purple Loosestrife, the three main characters are Spencer MacGowan, Vincent Ravenaugh, and Edith Leonard. These names just came to me as I planned the novel. Sometimes I come up with names that amuse me, such as Bobby Bouillon in my short story "A Good Boy's Tale" (The Round Up Writer's Zine, Volume 1-1, September 2013), or Mr. Gribbles in "Mr. Gribbles Eats a Beetle" (Literary Brushstrokes, Volume 1, Number 1, June 2012).

I like names to sound real--unless, of course, a story is surreal or humorous or offbeat and a name needs to reflect that. But otherwise, I strive to create names that could be those of people the reader knows--names that sound as though they've come from real life. When I can't just come up with such names, I find a few resources to be very helpful.

First of all, there's the website Behind the Name. One can find first names and surnames on this site along with a bit of etymology and history of the names. It's fun just to browse on this site, and it's useful if you're stuck and really need help coming up with the right names.

Another resource is within the Official Social Security Website. When you first go to the names page, you'll see the most popular baby names for the year, but if you scroll down, you'll find that you can search for names by decade, state, and other criteria. This means that if you have a character who was born in 1934, you can find an apt and realistic name for her. Or if you want a name to fit the state the character is from, you can search for that as well. You can also search for the top five names for the past one hundred years. Again, it's fun to browse, and it's very helpful as well.

Finally, I have a baby names book that I sometimes use. This is very good for finding first names, but it can be helpful for finding surnames as well. There are first names that are also surnames; sometimes you'll come across a name that just sounds right as a surname. I recommend a baby names book to all writers. 


  1. Good post. I mostly write secondary-world fantasy, and I loathe it when authors toss in real-world names where they don't belong, so my issues are with creating names. I can do that, but I tend to struggle when I need to have a real-world one. I created one many years ago when I was filing away letters (pre-email) at work and came across a completely separate first name and surname that seemed to fit for a rather exotic character. That gave me Dervilla Carefull.

    1. Thanks, Nyki! I write literary fiction so I'm always thinking in terms of real world names. I can imagine that with fantasy, it's a whole different ball game. I love the name Dervilla Carefull! That's a good one for, as you say, a rather exotic character!