What exactly is in a name? “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” or so they say, but first impressions count for something. “Belladonna” sounds very pretty, even if we know it’s a bit sinister. On the other hand, “deadly nightshade” is a clear warning. Same plant, different names.
I don’t have many problems with character names. It’s pretty easy to set a name for my characters at first, and as I get to know the character better, I have no problems changing them. (I make it a point to note the character’s name changes in my Cast of Characters spreadsheet so I can go back later and make sure every Luke is changed to Hadiz, or whatever name I’ve chosen.)
My characters often start out with half-forgotten celebrities from the 1970s and 80s (remember General Hospital’s Luke and Laura? No, neither do I, really, but Luke has stuck in my head as a name for a romantic lead. It almost always needs to be changed at some point, but it’s a good start).
Book titles are another story, and they give me fits. Even as far back as grade school, when they gave us those “choose a name for this essay” multiple choice questions, I always chose the rather small detail that didn’t matter over the boring “This Is the Main Theme” real answer.
When I’m starting a first draft, my title is often the originating image, the spark that started the story. So, the story about cave-dwelling supernatural creatures fighting to save their home from evil humans started out as Underground. The story about a transvestite hero stranded in Tokyo for a few days was TV. From an outside point of view, these are lousy titles that mean several things – and not usually what the reader associates with these words. But from the inside point of view – my point of view – these titles kept me on track during the first part of writing.
As I wrote, I graduated from these starting images, and tried to capture a different aspect of the story. Underground morphed into a love story between The Djini and Ms. Jones. And TV became the story of a woman who meets this fabulous human in Narita Airport, and begins A Little Affair in Greater Tokyo.
The book I’m working on right now is Bunny Blavatsky, Spirit Photographer. I’ve kind of painted myself into a corner with that one. The story is still about Bunny Blavatsky, spirit photographer. In the first book, she’s going to establish herself as a name in photography, she’ll get her own career, and she’ll stop working for her boss. She’s in love with him, but knows they can’t get together while they are in an employer/employee relationship.
I like the title, but I still have to ask the question: is it the best title? Are people going to be thrown by the name Blavatsky, and expect her to be more than she is? Will the title lend itself to being part of a series? For example, book two might wind up being Bunny Blavatsky, Guardian Spirit of New York and book three might be . . . oh, I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.
Every few months, I think it’s a good idea to play the name game. Has the character or the book outgrown its baby name? What new ones could be applied? The working name of a book will capture some aspect the writer wants to concentrate on, and even the pile of rejected names will hold hints about what this book is going to be about. (-: Or what it definitely *isn’t* going to be about.
How about you guys? Have you ever really struggled with a name? Share your stories in the comments.