A Name for Every Day of the Year

Capture.JPGTime to talk about names again! I mentioned a while back that my assistant was going through my books, creating a spreadsheet of all the names I’ve used so that I can exercise caution when naming new characters. She’s finished, just in time for me to start naming a new crop of folks for my work-in-progress, and I’m so glad to have this list and not have to dig through my memory to avoid over-using a name.

The results? In seventeen books (my assistant hasn’t yet seen the 18th, which will be out next June), I used 365 different first names, 189 different surnames and 75 fictionalized places. The most used name was “Jim,” which appeared in five different books. (I count Keeper of the Light, Kiss River, and Her Mother’s Shadow as one book, since they form a trilogy). I like the name Jim. My first three boyfriends were all named Jim. Nice guys, too.

Nancy, Maggie, and Brian were close behind. The bold names in the chart reflect main characters. Surnames used more than once include Terrell, Foley and Rose. I never realized that I re-used surnames. It’s funny how different names get stuck in your head and just pop out feeling fresh and new, when they’re actually old and stale.

Now it’s on to a new group of people with a bunch of new names. I love my chart. It’s going to make christening these new folks so much easier!


  1. Julie on October 7, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    That’s funny that it turned out to be 365! Weird timing for the exercise, huh?
    I think this is a great idea. I believe I’ll start a document like this NOW while I haven’t used many names to prevent having to do it later!
    You know, I hardly ever remember characters’ names in books unless they just stand out in a huge way for some reason. It frustrates me to no end when I’ve just finished a book and need to, but can’t remember the main character’s name–even when I loved the story! Sometimes it even happens while I’m in the middle of the book. I had to think hard to remember the characters’ names in the book I’m reading right now. (Anita Shreve/Pilot’s Wife … and I remember now.)
    Should I be concerned? LOL
    I don’t think it’s the author’s fault, but it’s interesting. Perhaps it’s even a good sign that the point of view was deep enough I got completely lost in the character’s head.
    I just noticed you have a Penny in Cypress Point. I have a Penny in my WIP, and that’s not a very common name these days.

  2. brenda on October 7, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Three boyfriends-Jim…wow…I have a best friend named JIM…wonderful good man…
    Good luck on names…

  3. ronnie on October 7, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I just want you to know that you have my permission to use “Ronnie” anytime you want to. It is a very versatile name, can be used for female or male or short for something else like Veronica or Ronald. I happen to be a real “Ronnie” it is not short for anything else. So feel free……….

  4. Diane Chamberlain on October 8, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Ronnie, I just checked my handy dandy character name list, and “Ronnie” had quite a prominent role in CEECEE WILKES.
    Gina, are you enjoying The Pilot’s Wife? I think that’s my favorite of Shreve’s books. And I don’t remember the character names either.

  5. Gina on October 8, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Diane, I’m not reading The Pilot’s Wife. LOL Maybe you have me confused with someone else that is reading it? I read that book many, many years ago.

  6. Diane Chamberlain on October 8, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Yup, confused all right. It’s Julie (see first comment).

  7. Julie on October 9, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Yup, it was me. 🙂 I loved it. I finihed it during the wee hours of this morning because I couldn’t go to bed without finding out what happened. Everything was so finely drawn while being kind of at a distance–setting, characters, and the TENSION. Wow. There were a few lines I had to stop and read a line over a few times because they were so “on.”
    I’ve only read three of hers, but definitely my favorite so far.

  8. Denise on October 9, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    I read Pilot’s Wife many years ago and remember that I loved it. I read another Shreve novel after that and just could not get into it.

  9. Diane Chamberlain on October 9, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I always read Anita Shreve. I love most of her books, although I could never get into Fortune’s Rocks, which was ironically one of her most popular. The Pilot’s Wife was very “high concept,” which is what made it so incredibly good. Most of her books are quieter. If only we writers could come up with high concept books every time, we’d be much happier (and wealthier) critters.

  10. brenda on October 9, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    I LOVED PILOT’S LIFE…I loved many of her early books-not her later books…that is happening with so many authors…I think they become commercial and decide to spend less time on books??? I am not sure…Certainly not true with you, Diane.

  11. Denise on October 9, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Brenda, I think it just takes certain elements to make a novel unique and ‘high concept;’ they either work or they don’t. I imagine that an established writer perhaps has a more difficult time with repeating the good fortune they may have found with one particular story/book on those that follow. Maybe Diane can comment on this (NOT that SHE has this problem!).
    I recently read TETHERED which, in my humble opinion, was sort of ‘high concept’ and unique. I loved it.

  12. Margo on October 10, 2008 at 9:17 am

    I’ve never read Anita Shreve but have heard so much about her. One day I decided I try one of her books and picked up BODY SURFING…I opened to page 1 to read the 1st paragraph and it was in 1ST PERSON!…uh oh…not for me so I put it back on the shelf…Am I missing a good Anita Shreve book by refusing to read 1st person?……….

  13. Diane Chamberlain on October 10, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    but Margo, you read ME in first person!

  14. Margo on October 13, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Oops…I made a mistake Diane…Anita Shreve wrote BODY SURFING in PRESENT tense. 1st person I love, not present tense…my mind must have been elsewhere when I wrote that comment.

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