What’s in a name?
“As soon as you said her name, I could picture her.” That was a comment at my writer’s group, to one of the published writers there who has a gift for painting characters not just with physical description but with their names.
Names are a fundamental of story-writing. If I told you my protagonist was called Brenda, or Roxanne, or Lucy, or Kaz, then you’d probably form quite different images in your mind for each one. For a few years in my late teens and twenties, I switched to using my middle name, Justine: there were four Rachels in my class at school and I was fed up with the confusion. I never really felt like a Justine, though, and when I was persuaded to revert back to Rachel, I realised how integral that name was to my identity.
When I’ve started work on a novel for NaNoWriMo, I haven’t focused on names, but by the end of the draft I’ve often felt that characters needed re-labelling. The Syndrome Diaries is no exception: Rebecca started out as Carly, then became Edith, which didn’t suit her either. It was as if she was in a milliner’s, trying on hats, but couldn’t find the one that captured her essence. Rebecca seems right for her; it fits her socio-demographically and offers several variants – Rebecca, Becky, Beck – that the other characters know her by according to the relationship they have with her.
My next novel is already taking shape in my head, and this time, I knew the protagonist’s name almost from the outset of planning. Gillian Jeffries arrived in my head one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and her story is taking shape there now, ready for NaNo 2012. I’d be interested to know at what stage other writers find their characters’ names. Are they the first part of your planning process, or do the names change during rewrites and edits?