What is in a name?

my parents sitting together
my parents sitting together

“That’s not the name I wanted,” my mom told me. “We fought about it. Your father won.”

They were either going to name me after her and my father’s mother or after my dad and my mother’s mother. My dad wanted the former–Marta Irina. My mother the latter–Lara Margaret.

“If you’d been called Lara, it would be more like your own name instead having sharing someone else’s. You ought to have a name that belongs to you.”

But I can’t imagine being a Lara Margaret. Who would I be then?

My parents ended their disastrous marriage in 1972. I’ve never asked dad how he felt about choosing to call me by the mother’s name. He refuses to talk about her. He can tell the entire story of my birth and not mention her. And yet every time he speaks to me he must use her name.

Once my step-mother tried to change my name.

Choosing a character’s name is important. A way of life, a world is in your characters’ names. How do you decide on names?

What about your own name? Would you use a pen name? Have you ever changed your name? What does your name say about you? Would you be a different writer with a different name?

13 thoughts on “What is in a name?

  1. When Crossed Wires was going into production, I had to lose the “Jr.” in my name because the editor said it made the name too long — looked smooshed-up on the cover. But dang I hated that. My Dad had died just a few years earlier and I still wasn’t quite over it; the “Jr.” tied me to him. The editor said, “Well, technically you’re no longer a ‘junior’ once your father dies anyway.” Which didn’t feel particularly consoling, since it was a “technical” reason but the problem was emotional.

    Ah well. At least they let me keep the middle initial.

    In the WIP, choosing the characters’ surnames was pretty much automatic once I came up with the gimmick. This will be more obvious if you do a Google search, say, on the names Weston, Wace, de Borron, and Malory. (Each of the characters with those surnames incorporates at least something of the corresponding author’s version of the legend.) The “main character,” so to speak, is surnamed Castle because he had to be the founder of a metalworking company named Castle MetalCo. (Think anagrams.)

    As for first names, the exact names weren’t important but I wanted to use them to help me keep straight who, in the book, corresponds to each legendary character.

    Whether all this is cool or artificial I’ll leave to somebody else to decide. Preferably LOTS of somebody else’s. πŸ™‚

    But generally, names give me a hard time. I often select no name (in the case of first-person stories) or just a single one, chosen specifically because it could be either a first or last name. Hence Finley, Webster, et al.

    1. Since my mom and I shared the same name, a few people tried to call me junior. I HATED that. For a long time I was Little Marta. Then when I got too tall, I was Marta 2–and I would sign my name with a tiny cicled 2 at the end. I miss doing that.

      But it is a shame to loose part of your name because the publisher doesn’t want to work with the font. They could’ve made that work. Really.

  2. I personally like my own name Damian, for awhile when I first started up my blogs I said to myself I would go by the name; D.F. Rucci. Pretty much because it sounded cool, or at least to me. However, recently I figured I’d drop it and just stick to Damian. Sounds more personal that way too.

    Whenever, I write it takes me forever to create the character names. I don’t even know what to do really, it troubles me to no end. I create the character and I’ll have this extensive profile; with no name. Sometimes I google names, and come up with some nice matches. That takes forever though.

    1. I have to admit that because of when I grew up (before you were born!) I have long associated the name Damian with a certain movie. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. But years have passed and I’ve met you and I’m putting that unfortunate association behind me. And yes, it is a cool name. Stick with Damian.

      For writing, I use a baby name book (and there are baby name websites too) and the phone book. Sometimes I open a magazine and look at the masthead or a CD and look at the credits. And if I see a cool name somewhere, I write it down to use later. But it can take a while with some characters.

  3. I’m a shameful writer. I don’t put as much thought into my character names as other writers, and I don’t work too hard to come up with them. It’s not been a problem yet, but then, I’ve not done an extensive body of work with large casts of characters.

    My own name? Well, let’s just say the name I was given isn’t one I answer to. I didn’t get to pick my name as a newborn, so I decided when I became an adult I’d do just that. So I did.

    I know, I’m weird. Please don’t laugh at me.

    1. Just because you don’t put a lot into names doesn’t mean you’re a shameful writer. I probably obsess too much. Whatever–we all have our ways of going about these things. But I really have to feel a name for a character. Every character’s name is chosen with care–every single one. And if I can’t find the right name and I have to keep changing the name, it makes me crazy. I just happen to have a lot of name issues.

      And kudos to you for picking your own name. It is your life–you’ve got to name it.

  4. I am very attached to my name. It’s a weird old fashioned name and I never really knew anyone else who had it. Oh, one professor who was named it but used her middle name, a couple of people in passing, and a bunch of friends of friends, but I’ve always been the only one I’ve known. Sometimes I go by one name, like a rock star. Sometimes I shorten it to Ro.

    In novels and stories, sometimes the name comes first. The name grows into the character which grows into the story. Sometimes the story comes first and the name grows to fit the need the character fills. But mostly it’s all about a feeling and the connotations that spin in my head.

    1. I love your name. Though to be honest, since I’ve only seen it, I’m not entirely sure I’m pronouncing it correctly. I’m the only Marta I know. I was the only Marta in our entire school for years, so I’ve felt lucky. On the rare occasions I’ve met another Marta I feel out of place.

      Perhaps we go about naming characters in the same way. Sometimes the name comes first and sometimes I work it out later in the story. But the name has got to be right!

  5. I love your stubbornness in refusing to respond to a non-name! That’s so awesome! You insisted that she respect *you*, not her idea of you, and I think that’s wonderful. πŸ™‚

  6. Tom

    I’m not sure where my first name came from – there are no other Toms I could find in my lineage. My brother got to pick my middle name, and he was a huge fan of Roy Rogers, the cowboy star. Thomas Roy is okay; I’ve gotten pretty used to it. And it could have been worse: he could’ve picked “Trigger” or “Nellie Belle”…

    As for character names. I’m afraid mine often get (er, got) named from a phone book. ************************************** πŸ˜‰

  7. Tom, I’ll call you Trigger or Nellie if you like! πŸ™‚


  8. Pingback: Condemned. « writing in the water

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