Writer's Life / Writing

Your Author Named You What?

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“Call me Ishmael.”

Don’t mind if I do.

What about Twist, Huck Finn, Mr. Darcy, Lolita. These names are literary standards – or rather, their stories are – or is it their names? Do their names really matter? What about roses?

My parents named me Rebecca. My brother is Matthew. My two youngest sisters are Sarah and Rachel. When we are introduced together someone inevitably says, “Oh, Bible names.” That was intentional on my parent’s part.

When I was married I took my husband’s last name but substituted my maiden name for my middle name. My maiden name is a part of who I am. It tells about where my great-great-grandparents come from. It was too much a part of my history for me to let go of it. My new last name tells about who I am now and where I’m going and who I’m becoming.

Names are important. But how important?

Currently I’m on a children’s writing/fiction fritz, and I’m hung up on names. I’m getting tired of writing “Phoebe’s Mom” and “Mr. ?” in my drafts. Some names jump into my head almost before their story comes. As if they are introducing themselves properly before mentioning that they might think enough of me as a writer to give me their story. I love these guys. Phoebe, for example, developed through some thoughts about the character’s personality as well as part of her connection to her mother and builds on other themes that are emerging. But why is it so hard to figure out what her mom is called?

I respect the other set. “Let’s see what you’ve got?” they seem to say. “You do some writing, and I’ll let you know in a bit if I trust you enough with the rest of this story.” I’m also annoyed with this set.

So, dear writer readers, how do names present themselves to you? How do you choose or know? What do you look for? When do you just throw in a “Bob” or “Sue” or are all your names critically assigned?

Moving on: last names. I had a last name pop into my head for one of my children’s pieces and that is absolutely the only last name I have developed so far. What makes “Bennet” such an exact fit for the family of five daughters in want of a husband? What do you consider when you write last names?

Also, am I overthinking this. Can I just hashtag #newbie on this post?

6 thoughts on “Your Author Named You What?

  1. Sometimes I try to instill meaning into my characters names; other times I just pull something out of the air and make sure it isn’t too similar to another name I used. I try to make sure most start with different letters, etc. I also try not to make them too long or cumbersome. I don’t want to keep typing that out! I guess Scrivener has a name-generator feature, but I haven’t tried that yet.

    • Ah, these comments have a flavor of “veteran writer” all over them. I hadn’t even considered the length based on the fact that I’d be typing it out a thousand times. Looks like I need to check out this Scrivener thing after your recent blog post and this comment.

  2. I keep track of names I like for future use. Sometimes these names develop their own character, sometimes they jump into something I’m already working on, and some times I just like them but they never seem to fit. Street names are a fantastic source for first and last name choices, I love reading the back of map books with the alphabetical name lists. Better than baby name books- so much more entertaining! Sometimes I’ll look up names by ethnicity if I want a certain “flavor” to them, or sometimes I’ll look up names by meanings (baby name websites are good for these) in case I want to add a little extra. I try to avoid names of people I know. Um…lets see…oh, and sometimes for characters that I have a hard time naming, I’ll try out a name for awhile and if it doesn’t work I’ll try a different name for awhile, etc, etc, etc (if I forget to go back and edit the new name in it makes the story a tad confusing, but since you’re much better organized I can’t forsee that being a problem, haha). I find that after a few weeks, sometimes the name that I thought “Nah, no way!” actually grows on me and fits the character pretty well. I guess some names are more “critically assigned” then others, but I feel like even generic names add/subtract from the character so I have a hard time not thinking at least somewhat about every name. I am far more of a #newbie than you are, so I don’t know if any of this is helpful, haha. That’s all I got. 🙂

    • Well, that makes two for the phone book. Guess I should keep the next one that lands on my doorstep. The planner in me also likes the idea of having a stockpile to choose from. Thanks!

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