Character Names: Part I

Social Security released the data on most common baby names for 2017. This is one of my favorite times, it ends up being a treasure trove of data. 

The most common baby girl's name was Emma for the fourth year in a row (although it has not left the top three since 2003) and climbing into the top spot for the first time for boy's was Liam. I found that there were 2,101 babies born in the U.S. with the name of my baby. I like to think that he is the 1! 

More than just fun or for demographers, this is a great resource for writers.

1) It helps you place your character in time: When selecting a setting, the writer usually pays attention to making sure the details line up with chronology. You don't want to undo all your hard work by having your character's name be out of time. For instance, the name "Britney" first appeared in the top 1000 girl's names in 1980. So if your novel takes place in the 1950s, that is probably not your character's name. Joan, Carolyn, or Sharon are all reasonable options, however.  


2) It can help you avoid dating your book: Many contemporary novels take place in the "ever-present", which is not a specific time, but around a vague now (21st century ish).  However, some very popular names date themselves very quickly. For instance, I have three very close friends all named Heather, however, most of the Heathers are all around my age.  In fact, sweet Heather fell out of the top 1000 for the first time since 1935. This very popular name is almost synonymous with the 70s and 80s, which means it is unlikely that your teenage character Heather is living in the ever-present, and not 1999.

Aside: Wait but why has one of the best posts on the internet about this phenonemon here:



3) It tells us a bit about your character, or at least your character's parents: Obviously character-naming is fun, but you can also use the data the social security administration provides to help guide you. If you know the year that your character was born, and know a bit about their parents, you can know if they would be more likely to chose a very popular name, versus a less popular one. For instance, do you think your character's parents would have been #royalwedding in 1981 and named an early eighties baby Diana? Or are they one of 245 girls named Kaci born in 2005? For instance, in my novel coming this fall, one of the main character's mother is something of an iconoclast, and thus she gave her daughter a name that hasn't been in the top 1000 names for over 100 years. 




What else can we use this data for for helping with character's names? Do you think there's a popular character effect on baby name popularity?