Name Theory: In Which a Secret is Divulged

I’ll let some of you in on a secret: The Name Girl’s first name is Marlo.

Having an unusual name has definitely helped shape me, and I’m sure it has strongly influenced my desire to give my child and main characters unusual names. I didn’t always like having a name I’ll never find on a mug or keychain, but I now love my given name.

So I get that others—parents and writers—want to give their babies unusual names, and that they feel an ownership of the names they choose. I respect that—to an extent.

The thing is, not all characters need “special” names, and they certainly don’t need names that are not and will not be shared with other characters.

Some of them do. Like Voldemort. No other character should ever be named Voldemort.

But, guess what? The main character of that series was named Harry, a name that is neither unusual nor unique. Plenty of other characters will be named Harry, and that is okay.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I believe that some writers who asked me for naming advice did not give me other characters names because they didn’t want me or others to steal them.

I have seen mentioned in baby naming circles tales of sisters-in-law or so-called friends stealing the name someone wanted, and I completely sympathize in those instances.

I have also heard many writers not wanting to mention the plot of their novels because they think that someone will steal their ideas. I think these people are overly neurotic, because almost no writers would ever want to steal an idea (I, for example, have more ideas than I could ever write) and those who do would want to steal ideas from published writers (because they are plagiarists, and only like to steal from the best).

I have also seen many writers worry over choosing an “unusual” or “unique” name for their characters. Every time they do, others tell them to just focus on the writing (as though the names were not part of the writing) and that names don’t matter (as though everyone should just name their character Harry and their other character Voldemort, because it doesn’t matter).

I think some of these writers would also worry about others stealing the “perfect” name that they chose for their characters. And I would tell them not to worry.

Okay, I get it. I get that people, writers included, feel a special ownership over the names that they hold dear. Not only do I hate that celebrities and other name aficionados are naming their daughters Marlo and Marlow and Marlowe, but I hate when I see other writers using the names I have given to my specially-named characters.

Then I pick myself up, put on my big girl pants, and make a decision.

I ask myself: Is the book something my readers would likely be reading? Is the other character one who may come to “define” the name, like Bella? Are readers likely to make a connection in two years (average time to get a publishing deal and then be published)? How much do I like the name for this character?

Most of the time, it doesn’t pay to worry. Most of the time the other character is in another genre or category or both, would not be remembered as the quintessential persona of that name, and does not affect how I view the name in terms of my character.

I understand why writers would want to avoid publishing their characters names on the Internet before they are ready to publish their books. But I think that when writers are asking others to help them name their characters, or to help them with other aspects of their writing, that they will need to divulge information about the characters.

As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, when a writer wants me to help him or her name a character I ask what their other characters in that story are named so that I can have a feel for the writer’s naming style and preferences. I cannot make the best suggestions for names if I do not know what kind of names a writer would consider (from traditional to outrageous). And that is what I want to do: I want to help.

Names are special to me, and I understand that they are special to you too—or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog. I respect that writing is special to you, as well. I hope that whatever you are currently working on is something that is special to you, that you respect, that you love, and that you give the time and thoughtful consideration that it deserves—without unnecessary worry.

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