Names, names, names!

Instead of picking a word I like for this post, I have to celebrate a lifelong preoccupation of mine:  names.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in names. Never boys’ names, only girls’. (Boys’ names always seemed so solid and boring to me. I wonder if that would’ve been different if I’d had a brother or a son.)

When I was a kid, I named my fingers and my toes. I named all of my fish exotic (to me) names like Rainbow and Rainbowette, Peter and Amy. I made lists of names and funky ways to spell them. For a long time, my favorite was “Krystalle.”

At one point, I decided to write my own baby names book. I gathered all the books on names I could find, and started to type up a master list that combined the others. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that this could be plagiarism, but that’s a whole other story.

When I started teaching, the names were so exciting. Now I had 20ish names to compulsively repeat to myself! When I got each new class list, I would memorize it alphabetically by first name, and I’d recite it to anyone I could find (much to their dismay). I even made a master list (I see a pattern…) of every student I’d ever taught, alphabetical by first name, of course. OCD, anyone?

When I named my own children–girls–I could’ve picked one of fifty different names and been happy. My husband either said “no” or “maybe” to each one, right up until the end. How could he not want input on something so desperately important?

And then came… choosing characters’ names.

Now here’s the weird thing. For someone so into names, you’d think I’d dwell on the names of my characters and choose the names I love the most.

But the characters named themselves and I didn’t have much say in it. Alexis (my main character in my WiP) was just Alexis, right from the beginning. I don’t even like the name Alexis. Alexa, or Alexandra, maybe, but not Alexis. And her friends Dana and Kelly? So not my style. And when I try to create a character around a name I like, it never works.

So what’s the message here? I guess it’s that feeling that writers sometimes get, when your book is out of your hands and your characters are in charge. I admit that sounds ridiculous; authors are in control of their words. But not always, especially in a state of flow.

Weird, but true.

Anyone want Iza’Belah for a character name?


5 responses to “Names, names, names!

  1. Neat. I had a fun time coming up with names for some of the real people I encountered when we traveled when I wrote about them later. I got worried about authenticity (is this a name you would actually find in Peru?) and ultimately succumbed to a couple that had a really nice rhythm.

    Intrigued to meet this Alexis…

  2. I just met a kid tonight who wants to be in my class next year. His name – first and last – is exactly ONE LETTER different from the name of a main character in a novella I’m working on. So now, of course, I have to change that character’s name. And it was perfect for him!! Sigh. I know what you mean about characters picking their own names, and how we can’t fight it. But sometimes you just have to dig in your heels and make them see reason.

    Also, I’ll see your Iza’Belah and raise you a Kjuan (K+Juan=Kwan – yep, real name).

  3. Yeah, the classroom names can affect character names for sure! I haven’t used any of my students’ names, except maybe ones from Ohio (we moved here about 3 years ago). After a decent amount of time passes, the names seem neutral again,

    I guess. I made up Iza’Belah but I’ve certainly had some good ones!

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