Posted by Derek Chamberlain on Sunday, October 9, 2011 Under: Book Review
The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, 2nd Edition, Writer's Digest Books, 2005

This book is, basically, just a series of lists of names. Kenyon has broken the lists down into national groupings, and within the national groupings into surnames, female names, and male names. Each name is matched by a short definition.

There is also a list of the Top Ten U.S. Names By Year for the years 1880-2003. She does not include top-ten lists for the other countries.

There are also two indexes. The first is a ‘Reverse Lookup’ index which lists all the names together under their general meaning so that if you are looking for someone with a name meaning ‘wise’ you can turn to page 429, find Wise on the page, and see a listing of all the names with that meaning along with the page on which they are listed. The second index is an alphabetical listing of all the names in the book.

Kenyon has included, as sidebars, short comments from 27 authors discussing their character naming techniques. Also included are a number of short introductory essay enumerating guidelines for choosing names for your characters or places.

This is not a bad book, and could be very useful, but a number of things spoilt it for me. First, the paucity of information on each name—you can find more in most any Baby Names book. 

Second, and most damning, the fact that her section on Japanese names was almost totally wrong. She included first names as surnames and surnames as first names. She also appears to have dredged up the names of 1000-year-old fictional characters and to be passing them off as normal names, which they aren’t. There is also the fact that she doesn’t mention anywhere that the meanings of Japanese names are dependent entirely upon the Kanji (Chinese character) used to write it. In Japan, two people might use the same pronunciation/vocalisation for two different sets of kanji. And people using the same kanji might have different names. This, and the fact that her ‘meanings’ are simplistic and she includes girls’ names in the boys’ list and vice versa meant that on the whole, at least half of her listings in the Japanese section were wrong.

It is possible that these were the only mistakes in the book and that the rest are 100% accurate, but as I don’t know enough about Gaelic, Native American, or Slavic names to be able to tell, I can’t use any of them. If I used the names she has listed in the Japanese section and the book ever made it to Japan, it would be horrible to find that they took my serious literary work to be a comedy because of the names I had chosen from her book.

That said, this is one of the few books that does provide listings for such a diverse number of cultures, and also includes samplings of surnames. If you take this book as just a first point of reference, a place to start your research into your characters’ names, it could be quite useful. But, as Kenyon herself points out, you should never rely completely upon a single source for facts that important. Find a name, then research it elsewhere, on one of the sites she recommends, or just generally, but don’t rely on this book to be an accurate reference.

In : Book Review 

Tags: review  character naming sourcebook  sherrilyn kenyon  writer's digest books 
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Meet the scribbler

I'm a writer, editor, indie publisher, and dedicated Magic Spreadsheet user. Originally from Adelaide, Australia, I've been living in Japan since 1995. I've had a life-long interest in writing and in speculative fiction. My first book was published in mid-2014.
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