Friday, June 24, 2011

The Name Game

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
It's not easy being a writer. Forget the anxiety of submitting your manuscript, editing it, reading the reviews. That all comes later. Go back to the beginning and you'll face one of the first challenges -- a challenge that parents and pet owners the world over can understand -- the problem of finding the perfect name.

Does that send a shudder down your spine?

Names are often our first introduction to a person and whether we admit it or not, they influence how we see them.

Now me, despite the lovely Tony's I've met, I struggle to be fair to any guy called "Anthony". It's irrational, but for two years when I started school they put me (the goody two shoes) next to the naughtiest boy in the school (I almost said world!) and there I sat until Mum suggested, at the start of the third year, that some other child be graced with Anthony's presence. Don't get me wrong, he grew up to be a nice guy, but too late for my subconscious. Just the name "Anthony" tells me I'm about to meet someone who deserves slugs in his sandwiches -- not that Miss Goody-Two-Shoes ever served him that sandwich.

Fortunately, the internet is overflowing with baby name sites and these are a rich hunting field for authors as well as parents. Pick a letter, any letter, then pick a name. Why do I say pick a letter first? Because I think it's less confusing for readers to have characters with different first letter names.

Then I hit Google and choose a surname appropriate to the character's ethnic background.

If I don't have a perfect name for my characters I find I can't write about them, can't make them walk, talk and live. Their names are the starting point. Get the name wrong and the character (child, pet, whatever) grows into someone quite different to what was intended.


  1. Yes, I can understand naming woes! I often find that the name for at least one character will come very easily to me, but another will not, and I've even changed a name when I was three quarters of the way finished writing a book once.

    It was HARDER to name our child, though (I guess it should be). My husband is a teacher, and as you can imagine, EVERY NAME I proposed was shot down because he'd known a student with that name. URGH.

  2. I don't think I've ever not liked a character for their name...I usually judge on their

  3. I change characters names sometimes two or three times over the course of writing the story. In the one I'm working on now, the hero started out as Declan switched to Garrett and now I'm looking for a new one because there's another main character (whose name I can't change) that starts with a "G". I'm about 20,000 words in. Names are HARD.

  4. JK -- Naming kids is tough -- and then, after all your hard work, often their schoolfriends simply use a nickname. I'm not sure if you've heard of Vegemite (Aussie sandwich spread), but that was the nickname of one of my schoolfriends. We could have used his real name, Bradley or Brad, but nooooo.

    Maria -- that is the best comment. It'll talk me down from my naming tizzy. The only thing worse than naming characters, is titling a book. *shudder*

    Eleri -- shame you can't use Garrett. I like that name, which is weird, because Gary (so close) is not a name I like.

    Thanks all for commenting :)

  5. True story: I used to work part time for the American Red Cross. I recruited blood donor. Yep. I called em up and asked them to come in. Know what I liked best about the job? Name collecting. I kept a little notebook in my cubicle. When I came across an interesting or unusual name I liked, I'd add it to my little notebook for some character in some future manuscript. I miss that job.

  6. Barbara -- that's awesome! both your Red Cross work and the name collection strategy :)

  7. I don't mind the character naming process. Me, a phone book and a second hand copy of "1000 Best Baby Names" tackle that. It's the titling that gets me...Oh, the humanity!

  8. Titling is the devil's work! Not only do I suck at it, but I have serious envy when I see other people's cleverness ... looking at you, Elyse, and "Learning Curves". Such a clever title.

  9. I'm the exact same way. I can barely work on characterization at all if I don't already have the perfect name in mind. Thank heavens for baby name websites!!

  10. K V -- those baby naming websites keep getting better and better, sorting by country is really useful. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who needs the character's name first!

  11. I have to know a character’s name before I start writing, that said if the plot changes too much or the story isn’t working I’ll change the character’s name…it seems to give them a new personality.

  12. Hi Shona :) I'm stealing that tip -- renaming for a new personality!


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