Name Theory: “Meanings”

Names can have a different feel to people based on their experience of the name. I personally have two very close friends with the same name, and know two very difficult people with the same name—and now those two names are tied up in those associations.

For writers this can be good, as when a name’s associations are cultural and will “mean” the same thing to readers, or bad, as when the writers’ associations are extremely personal and the writer makes the mistake of thinking their feelings are universal.

I’m sure I do this. Some names I think of as ugly, or weird, or dated. I have to keep reading up on names to keep up with the trends in name fashion, but I know not everyone will do this.

As writers, however, we all need to be aware of our prejudices so that what we write will resonate with readers—rather than be so dissonant that the reader is taken out of the story. As I like to say, the suspension of disbelief will only go so far.

Part of the reason why I suggest five names to writers is because I know my associations won’t always match their associations, or that my preferences won’t match their preferences. This week I suggested Katherine for a character, and the writer liked the name—but that does not mean it was chosen for the same reason I suggested it.

Name fashion, like language, is fluid and changing. I try to roll with the tide. Won’t you come with me?


Here’s a little game for you (don’t guess if you know me in real life):

  • Which one of these is the name of two of my best friends?
  • Which is the name of a few bitchy girls I went to high school with?
  • Which is the name of two difficult women I know?
  • Judy
  • Tara
  • Lisa

Character of the Week: Dead Girl Names

Remember how I said that I belong to a Jane Austen book club.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, mid-20s
She was born and raised in a small town in the Northeastern portion of New York state.
Her father was an auto mechanic and overall a shady character. He abandoned their family when the FMC was around ten and hasn’t been heard from much since. Her mother is a photographer and dreamed of escaping her small town, but never did. She’s incredibly quiet and is an avid reader of romance novels. She was born in Texas, lived in Germany for a time, and ended up in the same town where the FMC was born when she was a teenager. Both parents are in their mid- to late-40s.
Father – Roger, Mother – Anne, Sister – Lydia
Nathaniel – the MMC that the story is centered around, close friends and romantic interest of FMC though he was not aware of the fact; Penelope – FMC’s very self-centered best friend; Scott – Penny’s husband
When she was alive (because she actually dies just prior to the events in the novel), she was an interior decorator (I think, though that might change) and also dabbled in photography like her mother. She was a very compassionate and caring individual, very nurturing. She was, despite outward appearances that claimed otherwise, a very sad and lonely girl.
Literary Fiction

When I’m naming contemporary characters, I take some influence from the character’s personality and background and mix it with my personal experience. Here I noted that the mother is an avid reader of Romances and that the sister is named Lydia. I decided to offer another Jane Austen name for this character, along with other names I felt could fit for this lonely and artistic young woman.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Katherine (Kitty or Kit): Pride and Prejudice reference
  • Naomi
  • Abigail (Abs)
  • Lizette
  • Monica

The writer replied: Thanks so much for this. I had actually considered Katherine before, but I think this just cemented the idea. I really appreciate the help.

Maybe this writer is also a Jane Austen fan, or maybe I just stumbled on a name that fit her sensibilities. I do find it interesting how names can resonate with people for different reasons.

Name Theory: Giving Thanks for the Vision

Sometimes I am blind. I don’t see what is right in front of me on the page. I read my words and I don’t see glaring mistakes, or I don’t see where I haven’t written enough for the reader to see what I see, or what have you.

Writers are too close to their own work, and it is too alive for them to be completely objective. Writers need to rely on others to help them discern where they need to work on their work—whether those others be editors, crit partners, or people who comment on what they have posted online.

Be thankful for the “vision” of readers. Be thankful for their suggestions and opinions. Be thankful for their desire to help.

Every reader’s opinion matters, to an extent.

I am thankful for the woman who kept trying to change the “voice” of my writing, because she also pointed out some glaring mistakes that others didn’t—things that I would not have seen on my own.

I am thankful for the woman who gets all flustered at my suggestions, but does the same for me. Her questions make me think about my story in a new way, and will help my rewrites lead to a more effective story.

I am thankful for the wonderful writer and dedicated editor of her own work who inspires me by her example, and by her keep no darlings attitude. I don’t always agree with her, but I always respect her.

I am thankful for anyone who listens to me drone on about my writing, my characters, my plot, and my process. I love you all for it.

To you and yours: Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Thanksgivukkah.

Character of the Week: South England Names

I can guess why this writer never replied.

The Writer Describes the Character

Thanks for doing this, it could be useful 🙂

Female, born around 1982
Born in a posh area in Southern England. Parents were rich and posh; so far they’re called Andrew and Harriet.
Siblings names: Sapphire, Henry.
Love interest: Harry (clear distinction from other’s name)
Friends: Madeline and Brooklyn, fun, hyperactive young girls around 17/18
She is shy, humble, gentle and caring.

I usually delete the “pre-Thanks” that people put into their requests, for a variety of reasons, but between this being Thanksgiving week and that tacked on “it could be useful” I thought you should see it this week. While that tack could be sarcastic, meaning that the writer was certain it would be useful, it could also be an indication that the writer didn’t care for any opinions beyond his or her own.

I think the second is even more likely given the writer stating that Harry is a “clear distinction from other’s name”. Even if the characters are clearly distinct, the names are NOT. In fact Harry is both a nickname for Henry and for Harriet, a fact that any Brit or Britophile would be aware of given that Prince Harry is truly named Prince Henry.

I suggested some beautiful names used in England for this character, but only after giving my real opinion.

My Reply to the Writer

Harriet, Henry and Harry are way too close in sound and style for any story to handle. You have to kill two of those names. I’m going to suggest (practically beg) you to change Harriet, because it is so old fashioned that it would be more appropriate for the grandmother than for the mother. I offer Fiona or Pauline as replacements. Then change either the boyfriend’s name or the brother’s name, because you don’t want readers mixing them up.

  • Imogen
  • Gemma
  • Sian
  • Clover
  • Jemima

I stand by my advice that you NEVER want readers to confuse your main character’s brother with her love interest or vice versa. Even if one name wasn’t the well-known and oft used nickname of the other, a fast reader is likely to read the two names as the same.

Please readers, this week especially be thankful for the advice you receive from others because they can often see what you don’t see.

Name Theory: Vamping for Names

Vampires aren’t as big as they used to be.

For a while werewolves were making a run for the money, but that went to the dogs. Then came zombies, and they are still rambling along. Angels were big for about a moment, but then they flew away. Aliens were tried, but never really landed. Fairies are still trying to take off.

Still vampires creep around in the darkness. They are not favorites of agents and publishers, but they still hold some of the market. And they are very much alive and well in self-publishing.

Readers are still enthralled with paranormal. Readers of romance especially have always been looking for a bit of fantasy mixed with their real-life aspirations, so these larger than life paranormal characters still attract those readers. And, you must remember, romance readers can be voracious.

Some may believe paranormal is trite, but as long as vampires sell I will name them. Send me your blood-drinkers, your demons, and fiends. They are much more exciting to name than every Tom, Dick, or Harry.

Character of the Week: Enlightenment Vampire Names

Short and to the point.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, born in the mid-1700s England
Parents are from either Holland or England.
Names of other characters are: Francis, Noelle, and Victor.
Professional stalker, vampire, likes mind games.

Not a ton to go on here, but the birth era of the character is an inspiration. I found some interesting choices for this mind game playing-vampire. I looked for less popular yet not rare, cool-sounding choices that give a sense of age.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Piers
  • Rowland
  • Mathias
  • Cuthbert
  • Valentine

The writer replied: After much deliberation, I have decided to use Valentine as the Character’s name.

The vampire Valentine. I like it.

Name Theory: It Matters What You Feel

It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what you feel.

Sometimes I have to repeat it to myself.

It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what you feel.

I say this to myself when a writer I know makes choices that I don’t agree with or understand.

Sometimes it’s easy for me to say, because I trust the writer or because there is much about the plot that I don’t know and can’t judge. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to say, because I think the writer is being blind to problems or ignoring readers (I know one writer who “doesn’t care” if her dialect writing is unreadable or if her descriptions make no sense).

Sometimes, I know it doesn’t matter to me but it matters to them.

Would I have chosen the names Jasmine, Winster, and Isabel? No, not at all. Does it matter to me? Not really, I can see them working. Does it matter to the writer? Yes; they are the writer’s babies.

It doesn’t matter that I think Princess Jasmine is too fraught with associations to be used as this character’s name, it matters that the writer feels this is the best name for the character. And, I don’t know, but the name could have meaning within the story, or the character could be called a nickname that will negate the association, or the character could be so different that readers won’t think about the Disney princess at all.

As a writer, you have to judge the criticism you get from others. Does it matter what they think, or does it matter what you feel? Sometimes, you have to give in (especially if multiple people say they can’t understand your description!), but most often you will have to go with your gut and trust in your choices.

Write the story you love. Edit the story as much as it needs, but no more. Keep true to your vision, and you will find readers who love it as much as you do.