Name Theory: Random Questions, Random Answers

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again: What writers don’t need are a lot of opinions from random people.

Sure, having a few writing friends to critique your work and help you run ideas is great, and going to online forums to find out facts is good too; but… going online to ask a random sampling of people to give you suggestions about your character names, characters, plot points, or whatever is just asking for a lot of pain.

I’ll speak to the naming issue. It goes something like this (from what I’ve seen): Stuck writer goes to baby naming site where there are many people who love names, and hopefully some writers, to ask what to name a character.

“I have this character and I don’t know what to name her. She’s strong, but clumsy. She’s a bit like a friend of mine (but I don’t want to name her after my friend Beth). Please help.”

The information the writer gives is as random as the answer the writer receives. How old is this character? We don’t know. Is this a contemporary novel? We don’t know. Is this even set in the USA? We don’t know.

The answers come in clumps, usually, sometimes in long lists. They include:

  • Beth is a great name!
  • I love blah blah blah blah blah (top ten popular names on website).
  • Don’t name her Bella.
  • Just give her any name you like. My favorite is Jaxonia.

Well, maybe not that last one. You get my point. These random people who may love names don’t necessarily know anything about naming a character, so their answers aren’t going to be very helpful. Yes, the writer may stumble upon a name that’s perfect, but stumbling is not what you want to do when you are writing.

Let’s go with another example, the writer who goes to a nameless question asking site to request help.

“Help. I’m writing this story and I need a name for this girl. She’s a [blond/brunette/redhead], and she’s really hot and sweet and smart, but bad things happen to her. Oh, and if you could suggest names for her boyfriend that would be great too!”

At this site the answers are just as random as at the baby naming site, but a little more skewed in another direction. And since here the writers almost always mention the character’s hair color (does that matter?) the names often match to that rather than to anything potentially pertinent.

  • You should name her [Sunny/Raven/Rory] because that’s how I see a [blond/brunette/redhead].
  • Just name her whatever you like. You are the writer.
  • I think she sounds just like my friend Maud.
  • I like blah blah blah blah blah blah and blah.
  • Who cares?

Once again the writer could stumble on a decent name, but god help us all if they all go with the hair color choice. (I have seen Raven suggested so many times that it makes me want to scream.)

So, my dear writers, please take my advice. Find a writing friend or two or three to ask your questions to, be specific with what you need (25 year old female living in modern day NYC), and be choosy when considering any suggestions. And do not ask a bunch of randoms, unless you want your writing to look like it.

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