Choosing the Right Name

As my title suggests, today’s entry is going to be about what I currently am struggling with the most… and that’s naming things. Titles, characters, and cities, to be more exact. I don’t know if other people have this problem too or if it’s just me (which I’m really hoping it isn’t), but coming up with a suitable name for something in whatever piece of writing it is I’m working on is extremely difficult. I don’t get why it’s so hard. It’s a name, isn’t that supposed to be the easy part?

Out of the three, I’d say that titles are what’s the most difficult to come up with. Seriously, it’s bad. I’ve got an almost completed manuscript that I began working on about four years ago which still doesn’t have a proper title. The worst part about that? I’ve managed to do a rewrite on the piece but have not managed to come up with a title. If you’ve ever done a complete rewrite of anything you’ll understand just how much time and effort it actually takes to do that – and with all that time I don’t have a title. To me (and I think to most people), a title represents your work as a whole – but in a super condensed phrase. It’s going to be one of the major deciding factors of whether or not someone will even pick up your book to read the inside flap. So in my mind, it’s got to be good. Really good.

Character names edge out cities for the next most difficult for me, and for obvious reasons. I use them a whole lot more. There’s so much an author needs to think about too whenever they name a character. What kind of nicknames can they have? What does the name mean? Does it fit with the time period? Their religion? Ethnicity? These are only a handful of the questions I have to ask myself as I create a new character. What I’ve had happen to me a fair number of times is that part-way through writing a first draft – or even after it’s been completed – the name for a character I’ve chosen just isn’t working. Now thankfully Word has a ‘Replace All’ button (this has become my best friend at times), but I still find it quite annoying. Calling a character one name, and then another, and then another gets frustrating… and causes a lot more confusion than I’d like it to when I’m trying to remember which name my character is currently going by. I will say that I’ve definitely typed the wrong name many times – it does make for some hilarious read-backs though. I’ve had moments which are the exact opposite too, where I’ve just put a placeholder name in place since I couldn’t come up with anything clever and when time came to actually change it, the character wouldn’t let me. In most cases I’m completely okay with that, but sometimes there are just some names you don’t really like. I’ve had that happen more times than I’d like to admit.

Cities, though not as vital as titles or commonly used as character names, still manage to cause headaches for me on occasion. Maybe subconsciously that’s why I enjoy writing within my little universe; most of the action happens in a city I’ve already named. Yes, I know that I could solve all my problems by just placing my stories in cities that currently exist, but I’m not really into that too much. I’ll do it for necessity (which I’ve had to do in my collaborative short stories), but if the majority of my plot can happen within a place that’s made up, I’m happy. I don’t like all of the research involved with a real-city setting so if I create my own I can take what I want from different cities I’ve been to. One thing I have noticed in my time spent coming up with city names is that street names are glorious things. They make fantastic city names. Just sayin’.

Okay, so now that I’ve babbled on about my frustrations for naming, I guess I should probably try to take a stab at why this is the case.

I think for me, things like titles and names have such an impact on the overall effect of the story I’m writing that my brain seizes up whenever I attempt to think about the process of creating one. I know that when I pick up a book on a shelf, titles and character names do affect my first impression of it. If the title isn’t interesting, I might not pick it up. If the main character has an annoying name or doesn’t seem to fit, I don’t usually read beyond the first few pages. City names don’t really make me put a book down, but if it’s something dumb I’d probably shake my head at the author. So yeah, names and titles are important for publication reasons. But for me, they’re also important for the author. I can’t rest if I have a bad or non-existent name or title; it literally drives me crazy until I get it right. This is even more important to me than the publication side of the matter. If I’m not happy with a name or title, I’ll never be fully satisfied by my piece of work. I know perfection isn’t really possible in the world of an author, but there’s a sense of tranquillity whenever a name or title fits perfectly. It’s a feeling like no other, and probably indescribable to those who have never had it happen to them. But this is what I strive for every single time I turn on the hyper-drive writing portion of my brain.

I don’t really know if this rant (it’s probably safe to call it that) is going to help anyone whatsoever, but hey, if you’re going through this problem at least you know someone else is too. Now if you excuse me, I have to get back to thinking up a title.

Until next time. Keep writing, everyone!