Tell me your Name!

As a writer, it can be difficult to name your characters. When I’m plotting a book, it’s rare for the main character (MC) to reveal his/her name right off the bat. Sitting on it is okay but only for a while. Eventually, you’re chomping at the bit to start your character’s story, but that’s impossible to do when you don’t know what the hell to call him/her. 

In a recent blog, I expressed my sheer delight in having plotted a new YA novel called Elsewhere. Elsewhere is going to be an absolute blast to put together, but guess what? My MC has no name. In my opinion there are usually two reasons a character has no name. One, you, the author, don’t know enough about who they, where they come from and what their motivations are for them to have formed a fitting title. The second reason is tragic but simply true. Lack of originality on the author’s part.

I know; I know. Those three little words are offensive and something of a curse. They cause every writer to shudder, cringe, sweat and worry because we don’t want to believe we could ever suffer from such a demeaning affliction. But we do, and I’m here to tell ya drawing a blank isn’t the worst thing that could happen when you’re starting a story, but it isn’t the best either. 

Big problem or little problem the fact of the matter is having a no-name character is a problem, so I came up with a solution: the name list. 

The name list is in a handy spot near my desk in a folder of its own. Whenever I see a name that I think is sexy, intriguing, funny, dorky or just plain different, I jot it down so that the next time a MC, or any character really, is refusing to tell me their name I can refer to the list. This cuts down on pondering time which is beneficial if you’re looking to start your story sooner rather than later.  

I don’t need to stress the importance of naming a MC, but it can be a struggle. Sometimes they just don’t want to tell you and other times I think they don’t know. Naming a MC isn’t something you should rush, but the Name List can help eliminate possibilities. Actively seeking an outcome is always better than doing nothing. It’s why the AIC approach works so well. (Ass in Chair.) Even if everything you’re typing is shit, there’s bound to be something in there you can use and it wouldn’t have come about if you hadn’t been plugging away.

There will come a point when all you’ll want to do is wrap your hands around your characters imaginary throat and scream “TELL ME YOUR NAME!” Push through. You never know what epic realization is just around the corner. Maybe it won’t be a name for the MC of that story; maybe it won’t be a name at all. Some of my best story ideas came to me while I was ironing out other creative issues. My point is this: don’t let a stubborn no-namer get you down. Try, try and try some more. Eventually, that nobody will become a somebody. I promise.


4 comments on “Tell me your Name!

  1. My favorite tool for naming characters is a baby name book. Literally thousands of names are at my fingertips along with origins, meanings, and multiple spellings.

    All of my character’s names must mean something that reflects their journey, so sometimes I’ll get on google and do a search, “names that mean ______,” and fill in the blank. You’d be surprised how much comes up!

    Good luck with naming your MC! 🙂

  2. True story. My husband and I were pregnant with our first and naming her was nine months of hell. No matter what name I came up with, no matter how many times we went through the baby book, and no matter how many names made the short list the fighting ensued.

    We aren’t talking about “honey, I really thing we should…” or “Let play a round of rock/paper/scissors. We are talking knock out, drag out, hissy fits over her name.

    It was the Sunday before she was born (not that we knew that at the time) and we were having another go around. You see I wanted a Katie, and Katherine, a Kalin. Apparently I was partial to K names. So I start blurting them out and getting struck down every time. Desperate I start making up nonsense names and when I come out with Korinn, my husband pauses and tells me to repeat it.

    I had no idea what I just said so I had to think about it. “Karinn,” I said.

    “That’s not it.” Irritation seeped into his words making me want to just give up and give birth to the first baby named… nameless.

    “Korinn,” I say hesitantly.

    “That’s it.”

    At the time I had no clue it was even a name. But you know what I liked he. My hubby was fighting me on it, and she had a name. Since then we have met a few Corinne’s but I am pretty sure we have the only Korinn (the husband had the honor of spelling it.)

    Naming my characters is a lot like that. During a first draft I just write. If I don’t know a name I put in a place holder. My first book I hated my MC’s name. Julie. Right… how many sixteen and seventeen-year-olds can relate to a Julie? Thing was… the name stuck. I couldn’t name her anything else. I tricked myself into liking her name. Someday I hope to introduce the world to Julianna.

    (Keegan is on his third name and I am pretty sure it is going to stick. Dustin is on his second and Jamie is on her third. I am pretty sure Jamie will change at least once more before final draft.)

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