What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” — Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

I have given up on NaNoWriMo. I’ll freely admit it now. When I was so paralysed by my inner editor to even sit down and write, then I knew it was time to throw in the towel. I hated what I was writing. Truly hated it. And I know that you should keep writing, even when uninspired, but it wasn’t really that I was at a loss of creativity – it was that I was at a loss of patience.

Besides, I had a much more pressing issue to contend with.

I was hearing voices.

One voice.

I’ve met someone. She’s a bit of a bitch if I’m honest, but she’s sassy and clever and capable. There is just one thing we disagree on (apart from the fact she’s determined to feature in a horror story and I’ve never written one before and therefore I’m struggling to get her onto paper) – and that is her name.

Some writers (I’ve heard) don’t decide on names for their characters until the end, while others have the name before they even have the character fully formed. For me, the character makes their appearance first, and then I name them (with their consent*) and then I get on with writing their story.

However, this character is proving quite difficult. I can’t settle on a name for her at all. I’ve tried quirky, unusual, meaningful, generic, even ambiguous, and none work. I’ve started to call her X. I’ve got name for all of my peripheral characters, but she’s so overwhelming and attention-seeking, it doesn’t really matter. She invades every space of my writing – demanding attention and sparking off the page. Which is why I’m having such issues with her name.

How can I write about someone who I can only refer to as X?

So it’s started me thinking about the importance of names. Not just for identification, but for holding together the story. A girl named X is hardly going to be a good main character – she needs a strong, vital, iridescent name. The kind of name that leaps from the page and makes you think about her all the time. I want you to have a love affair with her, I want you to hate her, I want you to keep coming back for more, and most of all I want you to remember her. X is not exactly memorable.

For Romeo and Juliet (it wouldn’t have been as powerful if it had been Sally and Jim) their whole fate hung on their names. If Shakespeare hadn’t been so careful about naming them, the story would have been quite different.

Some names become so entwined with their character, that you can’t imagine anyone else being called the same name. Iconic names last. If I were to say Mick, you’d say Jagger… and how about other musicians? Elvis? Michael?

Or famous authors … Virginia, Harper, Edgar or Jane? Some authors can even survive from their own initials – F. Scott, C.S., J.G.

You know what you’re getting with those names. You know who they are, what they do, and how to behave when you come across them. You probably have opinions about some, if not all, the names I’ve listed.

Names are essential to the plot. Nothing moves forward without a forward-moving name. Nothing is a mystery without a mysterious name and so forth…

She’s haunting me – this nameless woman. And I’m now reaching the point where I can’t continue with my story until I have named her. This name has to personify everything she is – someone who isn’t actually very nice, but bellows charisma from the rooftops. You have to see that name and know exactly what you’re going to get. And it has to drive the story forward. If she’s so insistent on being in a horror story, then she has to build the plot around her.

I’ve taken to saying names out loud at random to see if any of them fit. X is sitting in the back of my brain, arms folded and shaking her head at every one.

I’m at a loss.

How do you choose a name for your character? Are there characters with the perfect name or a name that just doesn’t suit them at all?

*Please go with me on this – I know it sounds a little crazy that I’m personifying my characters but it helps me!



Filed under Writing

3 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. doctormimi

    The more you ask, the more she’ll play mind games with you. Ignore her name, give up entirely, ‘decide’ to keep her at X. She’ll soon get tired of it and tell you her name. And there’s always the name ‘Exine’, after this lady: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojBc4c1hX_4&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9CBnaQ3MMm_WcdG2KT7HpBe.

    • I’ve let her be for the time being! She’s still as yet unnamed (though I am using Exine instead of simply X!), but I’m getting there. I love this video – definitely something she’d listen to!

  2. Pingback: Can I Write Horror? | Inkings and Inklings

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