NAMES OF CHARACTERS
In fiction and creative nonfiction (when I want to replace a real name with an appropriate substitute), I like each name to reflect or imply something about the character, time period, and geographical setting.
I’ve found the following five sources especially useful:
1) The Social Security Administration (SSA): Given Names (First Names)
Based on social security applications, the SSA lists the popularity (frequency) of male and female given names indexed by the following criteria:
By popularity in the United States: top 1,000 male and female names by birth year, from 1880 – present (latest completed calendar year).
By state: top 100 names by state and birth year, 1960 – present.
By name: ranking of specific names, every year from 1880 – present.
For Puerto Rico: top 100 baby names by birth year, 1998 – 2011; top 10 names for 2012.
For all other United States Territories combined (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and U. S. Virgin Islands): tope 40 names by birth year, 1998 – 2011; top 10 names for 2012.
In addition, the site contains two downloadable zipped files—one for national data, the second for state data—that list the incidence of names by birth year, 1880—present, for names that did not make the top 1,000 popularity ranking, but were chosen at least five times within a year.
2) United States Census Bureau (BOC): Surnames
The Census Bureau bases the statistics for surname frequency on decennial Census data. Although the last Census was conducted in 2010, the latest surname frequency statistics posted on the website are tabulated from Census 2000.
The above link leads to a table of the top ten surnames in 2000. The same page includes a downloadable Excel table of the 1,000 top surnames in the United States; a zipped file of surnames occurring at least 100 times; and a PDF file of technical documentation of the data, which is handy for deciphering the bareboned tables.
Links are also included for surname frequency from the Census 1990. From what I can determine, Census 1990 was the first to reveal surname frequency. The Census Bureau posts various methodology documents that explain the scope and limitations of their findings.
3) National Geographic: Surnames
National Geographic has posted a map of the top twenty five surnames in each state of the United States. Geographic state boundaries aren’t delineated, so it’s clumsy to pinpoint surname frequency for specific states. Lots of Smiths, Millers, and Andersons throughout the country.
4) Behind the Name
Begun and maintained by a layperson, who appears to consult several reputable sources, this site provides the meaning of specific given names.
Search options include: by name, gender, ethnicity, mythology, and biblical origin. You may also search by concept or descriptive words, like “queen,” and retrieve names from various cultures that mean “queen.”
The site also contains wonderful time-wasting search options, including names for twins, name anagrams and variant spellings, themes (names associated with various sentiments, meanings, or professions), and a random renamer, which generates a first, and or middle and surname, based on selected criteria.