Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Names are hard

[reblogged from my Tumblr]

I'm about to embark on a new writing project after months and months of editing, which has got me all tingly with excitement. Much as I love my current world's, there's nothing quite like nurturing the first seeds of an idea (look at me, being all metaphorical!). This is perhaps the only part of the writing process that's pure fun -- just letting the ideas loose without having to worry about logistics, dumping it into a "brainstorm" document, and deciding to figure out the details later. Look at all this cool stuff that's going to happen! Look at this awesome world it's going to take place in! Look at all these fun characters I get to play with!

Then, the hard part comes. Untangling plot lines, connecting the dots, expanding the world... and naming things. For some writers, names of characters, places, and more come naturally.

Lucky ducks.

As I'm sure everyone knows, names are important. They're an inseparable part of who a character is, giving a reader a first impression and an aura of sorts. Some writers will choose to leave a character unnamed, but even that gives the reader a certain feeling about who the character is. For instance, female character with a long, flowing name often leaves the impression of one who is lovely and elegant -- like Aurianna or Isadora. A male character with a hard, monosyllabic name leaves the impression of one who is tough and down-to-earth -- like Jack or Mike.

I tend to overthink things, so when I name a character, I can't just chose something I think sounds nice. I wonder: What does this say about my character? What does it say about the people who named him/her? What's the first impression it would give about this person?

I'm also extraordinarily bad at coming up with things off the top of my head. So, now that I have a basic idea for my world, I get the lovely task of scouring baby name websites hunting for something that fits the images of the characters I have in my head. From past experience, I'll probably end up with something entirely different from what I set out to look for. Names, in a way, are like true love. When you find the One, you just know (two figures of speech in one blog post? I may be a poet yet).


  1. HI Mary Fan. I like your post, and agree that names are so important. The name of my protagonist in my novel, The Opposite of Everything, which will be published this coming spring, is Daniel Plotnick. He's Jewish and hapless, which is how I sometimes imagine myself. A philosophy teacher of mine from college once commented that "names confer reality on things and people." I couldn't agree more.

    1. Thank you! And that's a great quote -- thanks for sharing!

  2. Replies
    1. Another problem with names: giving a character the same name as someone you know can be weird. Needless to say, I shall not be naming anyone "Steve" any time soon :-P

  3. I get that.. I spend months trying to name the fictional city (since it had to be something not currently popular but legit enough to be a real city).. I wanted more of a fictional city since then I was bound by true logistics but still had to play with parts of that particular country and area.. and charater names.. ugh.. I had one picke dout and loved it, thought it fit her perfect, then turns out a couple other very well known sci-fi girls share the name.. So change it or keep it? Keep it and deal with the possibility of being called a rip-off or change it and not love it as much.

    Long story short.. no your not the only one..

    And one is the second book coming out!!?!?!?!? :)

    1. I know what you mean! I went back and forth so much when deciding whether to name my character "Jane" because, on the one hand, it's the name of every other female character out there. On the other hand, it fit her too well to give up! And then later I found out that "Jane Colt" was the wife of St. Thomas More... oh well :-)

      Jane'll be back in late January in her sequel :-D