What’s In a Name? Just About Everything!

Funny this article came through my email blast today, regarding naming your characters. Just in time, right when I needed it.

(As an aside: “Grayson?” Are you kidding me? I would have never come up with such a name. George, maybe, but never Grayson.)

I’m in awe of writers who can come up with witty names for their characters. They’re also the ones with inventive Twitter handles and email addresses. I am notoriously terrible when it comes to character names (and Twitter handles and email addresses – it’s j-l-h-u-s-p-e-k for everything). I usually use something generic and stupid, until I’ve finished the piece and start the first edit. Then inspiration might hit me like a bolt of lightning and I might come up with something more interesting. Maybe. Maybe not.

Now that I’ve finished my second edit of Finding Cadence, I’m seriously considering name changes. The manuscript is almost ready for querying, and I don’t want to saddle my baby with character names that are humdrum. I can just see some agent looking at my query and saying, “Maggie? She couldn’t think of anything besides Maggie?” I must give the name process careful consideration; after all, this book is my labor of literary love. When I first began writing, the original name for Cadence’s two-timing husband was “Tom” – as in my brother Tom. I love you, Brother Tom, but the name is BORING. Then my daughter went away to college and hooked up with an a**hole surfer boyfriend from Marin named Carter. After a bit of drama which included several tickets he incurred on her car and a trip to the emergency room (accompanied by a panicked phone call in the middle of the night), I decided to rename my errant-husband-character CARTER. Fit perfectly, and gave me more than a smidgen of satisfaction to click “Find-Replace” with such wild abandon.

Actually, I labored over Cadence’s name for a long time. I started writing the story without a first name, that’s how bad I was. I wanted a musical inference, and Harmony was too cheesy. (My apologies to anyone named Harmony. It’s not personal, honest.) Melody is Cadence’s sister’s name. Then I opened up my son’s Dictionary of Musical Terms and Cadence popped out at me. Now the name makes so much sense, since she didn’t feel any harmony at all for the duration of the story, and her life’s cadence endured its shares of ups and downs.

I might have to rename “Bill,” Jackson’s (Cadie’s son) roommate. I just don’t like the name, it doesn’t fit the character. The character is a big, lumbering, old hippie type. Smart, laid-back, and mildly attractive. Teddy, perhaps? Jerry? Kenneth? Definitely not Fabian.

In Virtually Yours, I ended up renaming just about everyone. Diana became SKYE, Lori became LAUREN, Scarlett became RHETT. (In that case, there was a gender change as well. Don’t ask me, just read the book to find out.)

By the time I’d penned Oaks and Acorns and Acorns and Oaks, I’d already started with kick-ass main character names. Amberly Cooper. Maya Cooper. Clementine Bartlett. Of course, I’m not happy with the sister’s name. Martina. Don’t like it. I’ll probably change it someday. I also will have to change the name of Amberly’s love interest, Trent, and probably Grandma’s. Don’t like either one.

I tend to draw upon my real life peeps for names, which might be why I’d gravitate toward George rather than Grayson. My choices may be thinly or heavily disguised. For example, Jackson’s girlfriend’s initials are M.T., just like the initials of the Real Life girl I based her on. Or I might name someone after a place I’ve been. Blaine comes to mind.

Come to think of it, I had a difficult time naming both of my kids. We called our son “Baby Boy” and wouldn’t name him until the hospital threatened to not release him without a name. And while I came up with my daughter’s name while she was still in utero, we ended up changing her middle name from George (there I go again) to Cristina. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I wanted to keep the peace.

Perhaps I name my characters lamely because they are just germs of ideas, not full fledged people, at least, not until I take them out for a spin and slap them around a little. I saddle them with emotions and problems and flaws they must overcome. Only then do they somehow morph from a two-dimensional thought into a many-layered organism.

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