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We all have to give names to our characters. I’ve just read Nicole Simms’ latest blog (http://www.nicole-j-simms.co.uk/6-ways-i-find-names-for-my-characters/) which shows how systematically she sets about this task. It’s good of her to share these trade secrets!

Particularly helpful is the suggestion of going to baby name websites for names that were popular in the decade your story is set. And I like too the idea of noting the names of the cashier on receipts you get at the checkout. Thanks, Nicole.

I think the nearest I’ve got to being that systematic is poring over an atlas of Britain looking for suitable place names to use for my characters. Place names and occupation names are good sources: look at the traditional practice of TV soaps of using the latter for working-class characters – think of Butcher or Slater in ‘Eastenders’, or (I’m showing my age here) Elsie Tanner in ‘Coronation Street’.

The British class system can make this a minefield. You’d think that centuries of social movement would have muddled it all up more than it has, but you wouldn’t call your dustman character Piers Devereux or your son of an earl Gary Thackenthwaite.

One option is to go the Dickens route, and make up absurd names that actually are just right: Mr Bumble, Wackford Squeers, Ebenezer Scrooge!

And then there’s the whole world of names of overseas origin to choose from. Patel and Singh have been common English names for at least two generations. Poniatowski, Novotny, Fontanelli, van Dijk, Schmidt, Papadopoulos, Gomez, Le Blanc – take your pick when thinking about arrivals from the EU.

In my last story I came up with Freckleton Jessop as the name of a firm of solicitors: Freckleton from the Lancashire home village of a college friend and Jessop from the high street store (other camera shops are available).

I enjoy the search for a good name. It can take time, but it’s worth it if you get it right.

How do you set about it?

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