What Was/Is My Character's Name?
February 22, 2021 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to name the main character of a writing project, and can't seem to come up with the kind of name I want. Suggestions?

My character wakes up on the morning of her fortieth birthday, realizes that her life sucks and that she's accomplished nothing, and decides to change everything about herself and her life that she doesn't like and to build a life she can be proud of. Also she might start studying to be a witch and work towards getting a government job, with the aim of legitimizing and regulating witchcraft into a functional part of society instead of some scorned fringe group, but we'll see how the story goes.

My idea is that my character has an old-fashioned/unattractive name that she has never liked, and she decides she'll legally change her name to a more contemporary/attractive and unpretentious nickname so that it still feels like her own name and so that it won't sound odd to the new people she meets if some of the people she knew before her metamorphosis continue to call her by her old name.

I would really like to use the combination of Jean/Jeannie, but should not for Reasons. So I'd like something equivalent to that, such as Lucilla/Cilla, or Dorothy/Dory. I want my character's name to go with "Thornfield", as that's the new last name my character chooses for herself (she begins a reading program to educate herself and is inspired by Jane Eyre), and not to start with T, as I don't like alliterative names (otherwise I would go with Dorothea/Thea).

What have you got, MeFites?
posted by orange swan to Grab Bag (58 answers total)
Florence/Flora Thornfield
posted by Glinn at 9:46 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

posted by RobinofFrocksley at 9:50 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Okay, this doesn't exactly meet your "unpretentious nickname" requirement, but weirdly my SO and I have had a conversation about how it's a shame that we've never seen a character named Mildred / nickname Dread purely for the amusing split in perception between the two names.

So, I have to suggest eagerly that your character start using the name "Dread Thornfield".
posted by past unusual at 9:56 AM on February 22 [6 favorites]


As a left-field suggestion, what if her name is Doreen and she decides to keep it after learning about Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft?
posted by heatherlogan at 9:58 AM on February 22

Betty/Elizabeth (or Liz/Lizzie)
posted by crocomancer at 9:59 AM on February 22

Melora (Mel/Lora)
posted by phunniemee at 10:02 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have an Aunt Doreen, and don't think I should give my witch character her name. This is also one of the reasons I should not name my character Jean, as I have a (still living) Aunt Jean on my dad's side whom I do not at all wish to insult, and a (dead) maternal grandmother named Jean. (Though in the case of Grandma Jean, my mother would just think it was hilarious and all too fitting. Grandma was... not a nice woman.)
posted by orange swan at 10:05 AM on February 22

posted by eponym at 10:12 AM on February 22

Bertha/Bertie (or Birdie)
posted by timestep at 10:13 AM on February 22

Calliope/Poppy (I saw this on a headstone and fell in love with both)
posted by librarianamy at 10:16 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

posted by zeptoweasel at 10:17 AM on February 22

Karen / Kay
Janice / Jan
posted by scorbet at 10:19 AM on February 22

posted by maddieD at 10:19 AM on February 22

Alice/Celia very close to your original idea and an anagram.
posted by effluvia at 10:28 AM on February 22

posted by meepmeow at 10:29 AM on February 22

What about Eugenia/Genie? That gives you some of the sound you're looking for.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:31 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Margery / Meg
Dolores / Dee
Dorothy / Dot
posted by RoadScholar at 10:37 AM on February 22

If witchcraft is a theme, it might be nice to pick a name of one of the Salem "witches" - Abigail (Abby), Dorothy (Dottie/Dolly), Martha (Mattie/Marty), etc.
posted by jabes at 10:41 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

Eleanor or Elsinor/Nora
Josephine/Jo or Josie or Feenie
Florence/Flora (Flora Thornfield sounds awesome to me)
Henrietta/Hettie or Etta

Or you could anagram it and go from Maria to Amira or Riama
posted by SeedStitch at 10:52 AM on February 22

Check out the top names of the 1930s. That's the right gap for names to seem hopelessly uncool to someone born in the early 1980s. Some of these are coming back into fashion now, but there are still good ones for your purposes: Marlene, Arlene, Darlene, Maxine, Velma, etc.
posted by yarntheory at 11:05 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

You might also want to have a look at the US Social Security website which gives popular names per decade. I'd probably look at names from about the 1950s as sounding slightly old-fashioned for someone born in the 80s. (Approx parents generation - some of the names older than that are popular again - Emily, Olivia, etc.) The other option might be to look at very popular names in the 80s - having an over-popular name is pretty unpleasant too.

(I'm assuming a US or North American context here. Naming patterns in other countries will vary!)
posted by scorbet at 11:07 AM on February 22

Linda/Lindy (or Lin)
Martha/Mattie or Marty
posted by Redstart at 11:08 AM on February 22

Magdalena/Lena or Maggie
Marcella/Ella, Marcie, or Marcia
Dorcas/Dory or Dora
Cordelia/Delia or Cory
posted by castlebravo at 11:09 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

posted by brujita at 11:25 AM on February 22

Response by poster: Some others I've come up with:


Still haven't settled on one, so keep the suggestions coming as long as you can think of anything else. I feel like there's the perfect one out there that I just haven't thought of yet.
posted by orange swan at 11:42 AM on February 22

posted by Ideal Impulse at 11:49 AM on February 22

Bertha / Bertie
Thelma / Tina (?)

Instead of Laureen / Laurie, maybe start with Lurleen which sounds worse to me.

Loretta / Etta
Mildred / Millie
posted by hydra77 at 11:50 AM on February 22

posted by eponym at 11:56 AM on February 22

I did some trawling through the SSA's database of baby names by decade, and came across a few potential fits. You can find plenty more options just by scanning through their lists.

Winifred / Fred
Marguerite / Maggie
Antoinette / Toni
Gertrude / Trudy
Josephine / Joe or Jo
Lorraine / Lori
Constance / Connie
Marcella / Marcie
posted by ourobouros at 12:02 PM on February 22

Alexandra /Sandra
Evelyn / Eva / Eve
Amelia / Amy
Amanda / Amy
Lillian / Lily
Rachel / Rae/ Reya
Aurelia / Rae
Sabrina / Bree
posted by scorbet at 12:08 PM on February 22

"Alice" has been used in a couple of movies (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Alice) featuring women who remake their lives, so you could play off that. "Ali" would be the obvious nickname.
posted by adamrice at 12:15 PM on February 22

Beverly -> Viv
posted by Ausamor at 12:20 PM on February 22

Laura (or Loreen/Lauretta/Loretta/other longer/fustier L name) / Lolly, in honor of another later-in-life developing witch, Lolly Willowes!
posted by quatsch at 12:23 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Interesting one to me--I was thinking about Jabes's suggestion of one of the original Salem "witch" names, and I went to my favorite: Mercy. Depending on what you want to imply, I feel like you could either use "Mercy" (or possibly "Sadie") as her original name and go to "Mercedes," with implications of class and success therein--or possibly go the other way around, with Mercedes as the old name and Mercy or Sadie as the nickname. "Sadie" always felt like a grandma name to me, but it's actually quite popular now.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:36 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

posted by dywypi at 12:39 PM on February 22

Octavia -> Via
Edna -> Dina
Leonora -> Nori
Rosalie -> Sali ("Sah-lee")
Beulah -> Ella
Mabel -> Bella
Lucretia ->Tia
posted by jgirl at 12:39 PM on February 22

An alternative approach to the updated nickname: Initials or a slight variant thereof. Delores, Dorothy, Deborah, or Donna could also be Dee. Mary Jo could be MJ. Bernice, Barbara, Beatrice, Bessie, Blanche, or Beulah could all be Bea. Gladys, Geraldine, or Gertrude could be Gigi. Lois, Linda, Lucille, Luella could all be Ella.

(For a general fun naming tool, check out Name Voyager.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:49 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

Mary Ann (Mary Sue, etc) -> Miriam, Maggie

Some of the most popular names of 1980 are Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Stephanie, Melissa, Nicole, Heather, Tiffany, Michelle, Amber, Amy.
posted by theora55 at 12:57 PM on February 22

Dolores --> Lolo
Francine --> Frankie
Loretta --> Letty
Lettice (!) --> Letty
Sue Ellen/Suellen --> El or Ellie

I think any of Pauline, Marlene, Darlene could become "Lena" but it doesn't seem to be a common nickname.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:59 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Virginia / Ginny
Eugenia / Jeannie
posted by mefireader at 1:07 PM on February 22

Hortense / Holly
posted by rw at 1:17 PM on February 22

posted by bq at 1:35 PM on February 22

posted by HandfulOfDust at 1:51 PM on February 22

posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:11 PM on February 22

Taken from the bottom of popular names 1981.
Looking at 1960's names, most of them sound out of date by the early 1980's but even the nicknames sound old. Like Victoria/Vicky, Dorothy/Dot, Patricia/Patty, Deborah/Debbie.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:20 PM on February 22

posted by Sassyfras at 5:39 PM on February 22

posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 6:02 PM on February 22

Brenda / Ren
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:28 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Bernadette/Bernie. Or Birdie?
posted by Comet Bug at 8:43 PM on February 22

Joan/Joanie (or Joni)

I agree you don't want a name that starts with Th, but I think other names that start with T would be fine and not alliterative with Thornfield.
posted by Redstart at 9:07 PM on February 22

Adele/Addie or Della or Dell
Gwen/Winnie or Wendy
posted by Redstart at 9:44 PM on February 22

posted by Night_owl at 10:30 PM on February 22

Maeve / Meabh > May
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:39 PM on February 22

Minerva - Min/Minnie
posted by Salamander at 1:27 AM on February 23

Deirdre/Dee or Didi
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:38 AM on February 23

posted by Sassyfras at 2:35 PM on February 23

Response by poster: All right everyone, I think I've settled on something. I had a short list of Rubetta/Ruby, Ruth/Rue, Mavis/May, Valma/Val, but I think I'm going to go with Eugenie/Jeannie. I get to use my preferred name without using Jean -- awesome! Special thanks to those who suggested it.

My character was named after her grandmothers, resulting in the most unfortunate birth name of Eugenie Minnie Hardmeat. She married young and badly and her married name is Travis, which she doesn't mind as a name, but she decides she wants a divorce from her husband, who is a mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging drunk, and she doesn't want to keep his name, and there's no damn way she's going back to her wretched maiden name (insert some musings about how the name "Hardmeat" was not a social asset in high school, especially for a shy, backward teenaged girl). She chooses "Thornfield" for her new last name, and because she's never liked Minnie and Jeannie Minnie is a ridiculous combination, she chooses a new middle name too, from a list of "M" names online, figuring she might as well keep her initials: Jeannie Meredith Thornfield.

Thanks, everyone!

Bonus: You gave me the giggles with a number of your suggestions, because besides my aunt Doreen's name, you managed to come up with the names of my paternal grandmother, my mother, one of my foster sisters, one of my nieces, the daughter of one of my best friends, and my own middle name, which was originally my great-grandmother's name. I couldn't very well name my witch character after any of these people without causing some serious brou-ha-ha.
posted by orange swan at 11:21 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]

My character wakes up on the morning of her fortieth birthday, realizes that her life sucks and that she's accomplished nothing, and decides to change everything about herself and her life that she doesn't like and to build a life she can be proud of.

She was born in the 1970/80s? She has to be a Jennifer. And her parents were startled by the number of baby showers for all the Jennifers and Jessicas, so they tried the unique baby name spelling trend, which is its own level of horror.
She may even have pleaded with her parents for a legal name change before she was stuck with it on her driver's permit, high school diploma, decades of Social Security forms, etc.
So at long last, she is reclaiming her identity, by going with...
Jennifyr / Fiera or Fire
posted by TrishaU at 11:44 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]

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