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Mark Moore
09-23-2013, 04:03 AM
I've been mentally swapping around some character surnames in my latest story, and nothing's really working. I've got four primary characters. They're all currently living in Washington state, but they have East Coast ties (three were born there; one just moved from there).

Liz has a regular, working-class English background. I've named her "Miller", but something has bothered me about this ever since I started writing it. Today, I realized "Elizabeth Miller" was the name of a teenager that struck the telephone pole closest to my house on Thanksgiving Day in 1999 and died at the scene (my parents and I ran outside after the impact caused our TV to temporarily go weird, and the whole crowd watched until she died and was removed from the car). It might feel weird using that name.

Bernice is from a wealthy East Coast establishment family. I had been using "Beaumont", but that, based on what I've read, is Spanish, Italian, and/or French. Not sure. If it is indeed French, that might work. She's a fashionista and jetsetter, drinks daddy's liquor when he's not around, etc.

Amber is the new arrival and is also from a wealthy family. I imagine her being from a Scottish family, but I gave her a Dutch surname without thinking.

Richie's background could be anything. It doesn't really matter. I gave him a Dutch surname.

blacbird
09-23-2013, 05:23 AM
Doesn't sound like you have a real problem, Mark. I wouldn't overworry about it. What the characters do is a hell of a lot more important than what their surnames are. Just for grins, a quick off-the-top-of-memory list of some surnames I've used in my stuff:

Johnson
Smith
Budd
Birdsong
Rose
Zubek
Honey
St. John
Rodriguez
Rainey
Young
Coldsnow
Fillmore
Rákosi
Salazar
Byrider
Glasgow
Rides His Horses
Broussard
Heller
Blaine
Black
Loomis
Green
Rogers
Van Deeming
Crosswhite
Greenup
Slocum
Harris
Muñoz
Josephson
Allgood
Haas
Acker
Hunt
Jefferson
Petersen
Richardson
Gómez
Ortega

Some I borrowed from people I knew, including distant relatives, some were chosen because I needed a particular ethnicity for the character, most just came to me and worked.

caw

Siri Kirpal
09-23-2013, 05:33 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Beaumont is French. I like it if you don't mind Bernice's initials being BB.

As for the other names, go by sound and sense. Most Americans are a hodgepodge of nationalities anyway.

And names get changed. My maiden name was Sykes, but that's not the last name my Dad was born with.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Casey Karp
09-23-2013, 07:13 AM
I agree with the others who say that the way the name feels is more important than strict adherence to national origins, but if you're determined to match the names to the backgrounds, you might take a look at Behind the Name (http://www.behindthename.com/random/). I've used it a couple of times to come up with some plausible-sounding locale-specific names.

storygirl99
09-23-2013, 07:36 AM
I tend to use the surnames of distant relatives or ancestors. But maybe this is just an excuse to poke around on ancestry.com when I should be writing.

In any case, I get what you are saying about not feeling right about a name. I sometimes have to try a few out before one feels right. I feel better able to imagine a character when the name "fits."

I think Bernice Beaumont is a fabulous name.

ralf58
09-23-2013, 07:54 AM
Sometimes, I look through the phone book to find surnames. It helps if you have an idea of what initials you want. It's also especially helpful if you use a phone book from the area you're writing about. Public libraries often have phone books from around the country.

Just for fun, you might want to run the names through the website How Many of Me. (http://ww2.howmanyofme.com/search/) It uses U.S. Census statistics to estimate how many people in the country have any given name.

For example, it estimates that there are 3 Bernice Beaumonts in the country.

waylander
09-23-2013, 01:17 PM
Miller is perfectly OK for a working-class English background. If in doubt go with Smith or Brown - two of the most common English surnames.

If Amber is from a Scottsh family then McSomething would be an obvious default though there are plenty of Smiths and Browns in Scotland.

King Neptune
09-23-2013, 03:55 PM
A dutch name for a Scot would not be unheard of. The two countries are rather near each other.

Dutch for East Coast establishment would also fits better than a French name. Van Winkle would be better, if it weren't so well known, but almost anything starting with "van" would be good, especially if she is rich.

ArtsyAmy
09-23-2013, 05:46 PM
Does "Amber Campbell" work, or is it too much to have "am" in both names?

As for Bernice, for all I know, there may be plenty of young fashionista trendsetters of French heritage with that name, but when I think "Bernice," I picture Abe Vigoda's wife on the show Fish.

debirlfan
09-23-2013, 07:36 PM
http://generator.chucklehound.com/?g=F
http://www.behindthename.com/random/
http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/

One of those should give you some ideas.

jaksen
09-23-2013, 09:07 PM
Try walking through a cemetery. Read the headstones. Take notes.

Mark Moore
09-24-2013, 01:11 AM
Miller is perfectly OK for a working-class English background. If in doubt go with Smith or Brown - two of the most common English surnames.

Hmm, I think I'll actually stick with Miller.

Mark Moore
09-24-2013, 01:13 AM
Dutch for East Coast establishment would also fits better than a French name. Van Winkle would be better, if it weren't so well known, but almost anything starting with "van" would be good, especially if she is rich.

Hmm, perhaps, but I've kind of taken a liking to "Bernice Beaumont" myself. We'll see.

Mark Moore
09-24-2013, 01:16 AM
Does "Amber Campbell" work, or is it too much to have "am" in both names?

OMG, that's awesome! And I forgot Campbell is Scottish. (Duncan's first love on "Highlander" had that last name.)


As for Bernice, for all I know, there may be plenty of young fashionista trendsetters of French heritage with that name, but when I think "Bernice," I picture Abe Vigoda's wife on the show Fish.

Um, hehe, I guess it's a good thing that I've never heard of that show.

oakbark
09-25-2013, 05:07 PM
I always try to make my people have names that go together well as I would assume a lot of parents do.

Liz Miller sounds fine to me.
At the same time, some surnames can have a categorizing effect. Liz Miller can be any type of person, while without knowing anything but name, a Liz von Burghenstein may indicate all sorts of things.

Personally though, I often look for first / surname combos that are easy to remember and verbalize for the reader. Staring with the same letter often seems to help like Liz Lark, Liz Lagrain, Liz Lippman, etc

Xelebes
09-26-2013, 01:56 AM
Rich East Coast - rather go with French? Something from the First Families of Quebec? Hebert or Cloutier are good choices.

Mark Moore
09-26-2013, 05:28 AM
Staring with the same letter often seems to help like Liz Lark, Liz Lagrain, Liz Lippman, etc

Ah, the DC/Marvel approach.

Well, I did name my MC in "Becoming a Hero" Linda Lancer, and her girlfriend is named Lara Love. :)

Sunflowerrei
09-28-2013, 07:59 AM
I like to pin down my characters' backgrounds and their last names early on, too. My WIP was 19th century England, so I gave them English, Scottish or Irish last names.

In my more contemporary stories, I tend to veer toward Irish last names, simply because I'm half Irish. So I like to keep my ears open while watching TV (newscasters' last names can be really interesting sometimes).

You said Richie's background doesn't really matter. Give him a common last name then.

pdichellis
10-01-2013, 03:22 AM
Here's a name generator I sometimes use. You choose gender and country, and it crunches a couple dozen first and last name choices. Pick a first-last as is, or mix and match.

Only thing I don't like: sometimes it resets to the default (female, American as I recall), so you need to punch it a couple of times.

Try it here. (http://www.atlantagamer.org/iGM/RandomNames/index.php)

Best wishes,
Peter DiChellis