What’s in a (sur)name?

As promised…part two!! Where do characters’ surnames come from? As with first/given names, surnames need to help paint a picture of your character.

I can’t answer for where other writers find surnames, but here is my process…

Boring as it is, there are always the classics…nobody’s going to argue with a character with a common surname like Smith, Jones, Williams, etc. If it fits – go for it…especially useful for secondary characters I think.

Once I was trying to come up with a surname while on a train…having nowhere else to look for inspiration, I ended up looking out the window. I wouldn’t recommend it as the list of potential names was a little monotonous:
Wood
Forrest
Brown
Green
Lake
Field (etc) All pretty serviceable surnames really, but not necessarily right for the character I was working with at the time!

I had much more fun looking for surnames for characters in a cheesy murder mystery, like the flashy American actress ‘Lola Starr’, and rich British aristocrat ‘Lady Penelope Penny-Farthing’. You can have a lot of fun naming characters in comedy, fantasy, or sci-fi, but I wouldn’t recommend such obvious stereotypes for serious drama…

While it’s easy to find lists of given names (search ‘popular baby names’ and you’ll find hundreds!) Surnames are harder to track down…some genealogy websites have old census lists which may be helpful for historical fiction, but personally I’d recommend saving an old paperback phone book before they become extinct!

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Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “What’s in a (sur)name?

  1. I found a lovely list of surnames: http://surnames.behindthename.com/
    Have a look there next time you need some inspiration!

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