What's In A Name?

Here’s a story. I had an idea for a project a while back, a great concept I thought. I was excited and wanted to get started right away. So, I just started writing. It was the romantic version of writing sprung to life; inspiration struck, and the words flowed forth. I dove in like an Olympic swimmer, and my keystrokes would have set a world record if there were such an event.

It was all about the story though. I planned to flesh out the characters as I went along or in revision. The names of my characters didn’t matter much then; I’d see to that later. My main protagonist got the first name that came to mind, Tom. Not very creative, I know, but again I wasn’t trying to be. His best friend, who entered the story a few pages later, was Sam. They were generic, no thought monikers that I figured I could change quickly in revision using the MS Word replace function when the time was right. All I wanted to do was get the story down while the idea was fresh.

Fast-forward a week or two, to when I reached word number 25,000, and my character list had grown to about fifteen. I decided it was time to get serious about what to call them before the list got bigger and more confusing. After spending a considerable amount of time picking out names, Tom became Aeron and Sam became Kain. It was time to implement my brilliant plan to replace my generic choices. That’s when I found out how many words incorporate Tom and Sam in their spelling, twenty-six and thirty-one respectively—bottom, tomorrow, stomach, same, sample. Only about half of the words I changed were the names I targeted. Since I had no idea exactly what havoc I had wreaked, my only option was to go through the whole document and change each one individually to make sure I got them all. It was a valuable lesson learned the hard way, as usual. I was just thankful that I didn’t wait longer.

However, that was just one of the many lessons I still have to learn. Did I mention that I’m new to writing? In the future, I will be more careful about naming characters, no more generic nonsense. What I am still unsure of is when and how. I’ve read a lot about the meaning of names along with how they can help portray your character. I’m also familiar with how names can affect the lives of people in reality, and equally or more so in fiction. I don’t want to put myself into the same situation I described earlier again. I’d also like to avoid saddling my characters with inappropriate names I’ll regret and have to change later, taking a different route to the same destination. In a sense, it’s like naming a child. The goal is to pick a name that will fit their personality and serve them well as they go through life. I see my characters names the same way, a small peak at who they are.

Part of my problem is how I write. I start with the story, put my characters into it, and see how they react. In a way, I discover who they are as I go. It is a conundrum, how to pick appropriate names for my characters that fit before I get to know them. It seems that I’ve learned only part of the lesson. However, at least it’s the part I learned would prevent another major pain in the ass in the future. In the future, maybe I'll just use initials until I start the revisions.

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