I'm currently brooding over good character names for a novel I want to write. I was looking at some of the books I read recently, trying to understand why the authors picked the names they gave their protagonists.

In "Before I die" by Jenny Downham – which is one of the best books of my life, by the way – the two main characters are named Ellie Parker and Mickey McKenzie. Obviously surnames names are not uniformily distributed over the country, and there is a preference for different first names among different classes, so names will not only give you an idea of which region and social context a person might come from, they also trigger prejudices about a person's character. But since English is not my native tongue, and I don't live in the UK, I have no feeling for the connotations that these two names from that novel will evoke in a native English reader from the UK.

What connotations do the names Ellie Parker and Mickey McKenzie carry? What kind of persons do you imagine carry such names?

  • It helps to start with a setting; names and what they denote depend heavily on where and when the story is set. Start there and you'll find coming up with names a lot easier. – CLockeWork Nov 5 '13 at 9:40
  • My question is not about my story. A writer is supposed to read a lot and understand how those texts were created. At the moment I try to understand character naming. – user5645 Nov 5 '13 at 11:58

This depends heavily on when a story is set, if this story was set in the Victorian era, when upper class people had "upper class" names, the names may have implied class.

Sadly, as the story is set in the present day, they don't really imply anything. In fact, as names spread across the country the original locality of the name is meaningless too (my step mother's called McKenzie but she's in no way Scottish.)

It may help to know when and where your story is set. Still, I don't think you need to concern yourself too much with this, let the names come out of the story. Otherwise you're just blocking yourself from starting.

This answer is based on names in the UK because the story appears to be set in present day Britain (and because I live here, so it's all I have to go on)

  • Parker is more common in England, McKenzie is (still today) more common in Scotland. It will, I believe, imply a Scottish ancestry. And people will apply their Scottish (or English) stereotypes to those names. In my country (Germany) familiy names hint at regional and educational differences, because historically country people, urban citizens etc. had different last names, and there is still today a blurred but perceivable distribution among people with different education backgrounds, occupational preferences, political optinions etc. I'd be surprised if the UK was different. – user5645 Nov 5 '13 at 12:00
  • The thing is, people in the UK move a lot; a name may imply a heritage, but it's an old one. I've met many McKenzies who have been English for the last 200 years of generations. Names in modern day Britain mean very little, for instance my wife was previously called Sullivan, a very common name in Ireland but her family haven't had any Irish in them for over a century. There are names in the UK that imply region of origin, but they do move around; the issue is more that in modern day Britain names aren't likely to tell more than a person's heritage – CLockeWork Nov 5 '13 at 14:24
  • Names here also don't tend to imply class or educational background, because almost anyone can get a good education and move up through the classes. The main exception to this is a growing preference among lower classes to give their children odd and/or double barreled first names – CLockeWork Nov 5 '13 at 14:28
  • Well, we're getting off-topic here, but lack of laws preventing certain people from higher education is not the same as social support from your family helping you achieve it. It has been shown and shown again that university graduates mostly come from families of university graduates: because they have the money not to work parallel to a difficult education; their family members serve as examples for an academic career and lifestyle and give them ideas how to master obstacles; their family will motivate them, while families of working class children will often demotivate them; etc. etc. – user5645 Nov 12 '13 at 11:09
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    Certainly off topic. Still, my wife and I both came from lower working class families and are now very well paid. My wife has a degree and I do not, but you wouldn't be able to tell any of this from our names: our names do not denote our class or history. Social mobility is only restricted by motiviation... in the UK in any case. My point remains the same; in modern day Britain, when the story in question is set, and especially among teenagers, which this story is about, names have very little meaning. The names in question only have major meaning if this were a Mills and Boon. Which it's not. – CLockeWork Nov 12 '13 at 15:35

I'm a native English reader,though not from the UK. With that caveat, here's my two cents.

What connotations do the names Ellie Parker and Mickey McKenzie carry? What kind of persons do you imagine carry such names?

'Ellie Parker' sounds like an upper-crust dowager, set in her ways, imperiously and unconsciously demanding her own way, but likable all the same. 'Mickey McKenzie' brings to mind a farm laborer, honest, hard-working, but slightly bitter at the lot which fate has handed him. He may be jealous of Parker, but is unlikely to wish her actual harm unless he perceives that she has deliberately harmed him or his.

That is of course very stereotypical, and entirely subjective. I imagine that others may have totally different interpretations of the characters names. Write your story, allow the characters to be what they will be, and the name will come to fit them--as long as the name is true to what you think an 'Ellie Parker' or 'Mickey McKenzie' should be!


If the characters are teenagers, my mental image changes a little, though not too much. Ellie Parker is snooty, rich, and blase. (Long, straight hair, too, though that shouldn't make a difference!) Mickey McKenzie works a tech job, is smart but unambitious, given to hanging in malls and spending time online. In short, he is a typical 'kid-dult'. Hope this helps!

  • Thank you, J. Zimmerman, exactly what I was hoping for. Do your "prejudices" change if you imagine the two people as teenagers? – user5645 Nov 5 '13 at 12:02

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