Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Reference Shelf - The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook

I love baby name books. There. I said it. At one time, I had ten different books, though I've whittled that down to the core four over the years.

But I've been obsessed with naming things since I was a kid, mostly because I grew up with a name that gave me every type of conniption fit known to man. My first name is a common Norwegian/German name, but practically unused/unheard of here in the US. In my lifetime, I've only ever met one and heard of one other. At least half the people who see it for the first time say it wrong, while a good proportion of those that are left don't even try. On top of that, I had a last name that was too simple for people to believe. I spent the first twentysome years of my life arguing with people about it, usually when taking reservations because they thought I was taking the piss out of them. It got to the point where I wouldn't even say it for new people, just spell it out and then let them stare at it and try to figure it out for themselves.

Because of all that, I got obsessed early on. My rubric on whether a baby name book was any good was whether my name was in it. If it wasn't, put it back on the shelf and laugh at how incomplete it was. If it was...well, that's how I ended up with ten different baby name books at one point.

My favorite for writing, however, is hands down The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook.
I have the 1994 version (which I've had since it came out), which is why the purple hardcover above is different than the one on Amazon. It was unavailable for a few years, but it turns out that it got re-released in 2010. Lucky for you guys!

Trivia: It's done by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Yes, that Sherrilyn Kenyon. Before she broke through. I never put the two together until a few years ago, in all honesty. I never really looked at the cover much to notice.

Why do I love this naming book above all others? Because of the way it's organized. It has essays in the front about various naming conventions, but it's the lists that make this my go-to name book. Instead of being divided into two sections, male and female, like most baby name books, it's organized by origin, and then by gender. So there are sections from English (quite large) to Basque (two pages) to Native American (which is further broken down by tribe). Is it completely accurate? No, not really, but reference books should always be a starting point for more research if it's that important. Is it comprehensive? No, but it's pretty damn big. Over 20,000 names.

The Internet has made name databases much more common, especially with the tools to search by origin, but this book still remains my go-to reference. I have to admit I'm tempted to pick up the updated version and see how different it is.

Plus, it's got my unusual name on three different pages. How can I not love a book like that?