Hi Duana,

I love the magic you are able to pull off with baby names and am wondering if you might help me name the main characters in a novel I am writing. November is "national write a novel in a month" and I am hoping to finish the sh*tty first draft - something I have been working on for three plus years. It is historical fiction, mostly circa 1940s - and a love triangle of sorts. The tricky thing is that the basic story is inspired by family members. Although they have passed on, I want to make sure that I don't hurt anyone. Plus most everything is made up and so I do need to change the names "to protect the innocent." I love love love their real names - Lillian, Cora and Frank. Have been thinking of Francine, Elinor and Henry but would appreciate your thoughts and advice.
All the best,


Ugggh I love this so much, and I’ve never done NaNoWriMo – it’s always November 8th before I remember that it exists. Also if there’s NaNoPilotMo (or, knowing TV writers, NaNoPilotUnhealthy72Hours) can someone please subscribe me to the Reddit/Slack immediately? 

I love that you’re doing this, not just because it’s cool as sh-t that you’re tackling this, and that you WILL finish, but because I think changing the names of the characters from the real people helps to distance you from what you know to be true, and lets the characters become 3-D. 

My first instinct with your suggested names is that you should eliminate name choices that are currently popular. Even though you’re writing about people in the 40s with names that may be once again in use now, you want to avoid people unconsciously or overtly thinking of their niece when they read about the adventures of the people in the love triangle/spy mission/mystery – so my first suggestion is to move away from Elinor, since it’s so well-used for little girls these days, to something that hasn’t yet had a second life. 

That doesn’t mean you have to use names you don’t find attractive, but ones that will center us overtly in the period will help you. If they’ve all passed now they would have been maybe born in the 1910s/20s? So you could look at Sylvia or Lydia, or Vivian or maybe Miriam or Margaret or Dorothy –  or even the slightly more common trend back then of alternates to ‘traditional’ names, like Elspeth or Ailsa - or hell, go with one of the names I’m always pushing on people, like Frederica or Wilhelmina, which I think were less outré back then. 

I feel similarly, but not as strongly, about Henry – because of course the fashions in men’s names are less extreme, partly because of all the juniors and 3rds and 5ths there are. Truthfully you could get away with it if you wanted, but since we’re here, what about Wallace or Lawrence or Norman or Nigel or Humphrey or Montgomery? Obviously some of these won’t work based on who the character is and is meant to be, but you can choose something slightly less common to reinforce that feeling of being in, and of, another time. 

With Francine – frankly, I think you’ve hit the jackpot. This is so of its time, and I started the letter thinking I was going to steer you toward the ‘een’ names because they’re so dated currently, and because Francine makes me think of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, which puts us right in the correct time period, mentally.  Plus it seems as though you want a name not as decorative as the alternates for Elinor, and I think the diminutive ‘een’ suffix works so well for that.  

But if you want some alternates just for fun, you could look at Philomena, Maureen, Clarice, Eunice, or even something like Norma (a liiiiittle young for your characters, but so evocative!) or Sybil. 

Now… go! Go type like the wind, you have the rest of the day left! Plus a weekend, to be honest, because who really knows if it’s December when the month change happens on a Saturday? You can do it! And, of course… let us know!