The Best Name Book Ever

But not, surprisingly, by Richard Scarry! (Parents of small kids will probably get that joke.)

The Baby Name Wizard, 2019 Revised 4th Edition: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby by [Laura Wattenberg]

When I was a teenager, some of my favorite reading was baby name books. Not only did I have characters to name, but my family shared a general interest in names and naming trends. It took me a while to figure out that not every dinner table perked up at the mention an odd or trendy name you came across last week. That, in fact, some people didn’t even care about the difference in spelling a name Michaela or Makayla.

I also learned that I needed couch my hobby in the proper terms. An 18-year-old reading a baby-name book gave rise to two immediate assumptions:

  1. I was pregnant.
  2. I was not pregnant, but so looking forward to having babies that I was already thinking of names for them.

Neither was accurate.

I grew up, got married, and for a while I read baby names books with actual babies in mind. (Although I found our third child’s name long before I got pregnant with her — I just thought of it one afternoon, called DJ at work and asked if he liked the name, and it went on the list.) Yet it was also simply because I love the subject. It was during these years that I first discovered The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg… only the best name book ever.

The Baby Name Wizard was a revolution in the world of baby-name books. Most of them tended to just be a list of names with dubious definitions attached to them. (Many name meanings are uncertain or irrelevant anyway; our culture doesn’t generally choose names for their meanings. And in a world where you can build names like Abralyn and Jaycee, name meanings don’t even exist.) Some of the better books would give you a short commentary about a name, or list famous people who have the name.

TBNW does way more than that. In one small entry, you get:

  1. Name pronunciation
  2. Variations in spelling
  3. Common nicknames
  4. “Brother” and “sister” names. These are names that the author has decided match the name in style and association.
  5. A graph to show its popularity trend, especially which year it was the most popular
  6. A short blurb about the name — its sound, its origin, its associations
  7. A brief mention of well-known people who have the name

Here’s the entry* for my name:

And it sure doesn’t hurt my feelings that she gives “Sara” its own entry, separate from “Sarah.” When I was 13, my very first stories featured a character named Sarah Robsin who was not in any way a fantasy version of myself, since Sarah is such a different name from Sara.

Beyond the actual name listings, you also get sections that group names according to certain styles — African-American, Brisk & Breezy, Mythological, Nicknames… Y’all. It’s just good reading.

I’ve used this book extensively while writing my current novel. I needed to know what a woman would be named in the 60s (so, naming trends from the 40s). This book lets me find a name, then follow it to other, similar, names. I can see from the graph whether the name “Brittany” would have been cutting-edge, trendy, or passe depending on how old the character is. For someone who finds it jarring when a contemporary teenager is named “Judy”(and nobody remarks on it as unusual) or 35-year-old man in 2011 is named “Tristan” (and he wasn’t tormented in middle school in 1991?) — or, heck, who thinks it’s wildly convenient that all of the Twilight Cullens have trendy old-fashioned names like Edward and Rosalie and none of them are named Herbert or Flossie — this book has been an enormously helpful resource.

The 2019 (fourth) edition just came out, and I just got my copy. It’s familiar and fun, and good quarantine reading. You should pick one up! Just be prepared to explain to people that you aren’t actually pregnant.

*(Not the whole entry, just in case, and here’s hoping Laura Wattenberg doesn’t object to me posting this. Or maybe she’ll track it down, realize I’m a longtime loyal fan, and become pen pals with me.)

Pre-Made Book Covers

One of the more surprising secrets of the indie-publishing trade is that there are entire sites selling pre-made book covers.

[I highly recommend Go On Write for pre-made, but not generic, book covers. I’m inserting this link here so you don’t have to wade through the rest of the post to find it. But please do finish the post before sailing away.]

You, the author, write your book and go buy a cover that fits it. You can spend quite a lot on them, but most of them cost within the $30 – $50 range.

And I obviously lucked out, huh? Both of my book covers are excellent. Yeah, well, that took a little more “doing” than just buying a $50 digital file

Browsing through a few hundred covers will tell you that the more “genre” your story is, the easier it is to find a cover for it. (If you happen to write paranormal romance, you are set for life and beyond.)

If, however, you write stories that don’t fit easily into any one category, even a dozen pre-made cover sites can fail you. They definitely failed me.

I ended up using a custom service for The Fellowship, but had to spell out highly specific instructions. I even went to the paint store, picked out two or three suitable colors, and emailed the numbers to the designer. I’m happy with the outcome, but I felt slightly gypped that I did nearly all the creative work, while paying $200-some for it.

I couldn’t afford to do the same with Go Right. So I pored over pre-made cover sites. The one site I kept returning to was Go On Write (which I think of as “goon write” because that’s how its address appears). These covers, while still mostly catering to genre fiction, showed a lot of creativity and sparkle.* The mock titles are entertaining as well.

I still didn’t find what I needed. Since I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, I took the chance on his custom service. The turnaround was fast, and I was very pleased with the result. It was more expensive than just buying one off the site, but all I had to do was toss him the ideas and a stock photo. A year later, I came back asking for the digital cover to be converted into a “wraparound” cover for a physical book. (That’s one of his other services, so an extra charge for it.) The result is beautiful.

I’ve also bought three other covers from him. (Once a cover is sold, he doesn’t reuse it.) I’m pretty sure I’ll write stories to go with them one day.

Anyway, that’s my endorsement — I used this service, I was happy with it, so I’m passing it on to someone else who might find it useful. And it’s plain fun to just browse his site. Go check it out!

*He obviously does a lot of business for erotica, both straight and gay, so be advised his wares are not all G-rated.