What’s in a name?

“Words have meaning and names have power.”

So as I sit here (inside, not out, thank you oh so very much, stupid allergies) making a rough outline of things I want to include in the next few chapters of my novel, I was suddenly struck with an idea. Now, obviously that has to happen all the time for any writer who’s working on a draft. The difference, though, is that this wasn’t an idea for the book itself, at least in terms of storyline, character development, and the like. It was an idea for a title – a fleeting idea at first, but one that I now keep coming back to as I consider whether or not it encompasses all of what this book is. It’s impossible to tell that just yet, not with journeys that are still unfinished for almost every character in the novel, but it’s definitely one that I will be considering down the line.

Naming my novels has always been a funny process for me. Sometimes it comes easily, even before I start writing. With With a Little Bit of Luck, though, it was the complete opposite. I wrote and edited the entire novel without ever having a definitive name for it. It wasn’t until the last round of revisions, as I was going through the story again, that I grew attached to a line that appeared a few times throughout and decided to use it as the title. With my current manuscript, I had a tentative title in place almost from the start of my brainstorming and researching. I’ve been thinking of it by this name all along … but now I just don’t know. My two potential titles (and who knows if there will be more to come?) have nothing at all to do with one another, yet each ties into the story in different ways. What will I end up titling this manuscript? There’s no way to know just yet, but the whole idea of it made me curious. We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But what about its title? Do we make assumptions based on that? Does it affect whether or not we buy a book? From a writer’s perspective, I quickly learned how important a name can be. But what about from a reader’s perspective?

And does that expand, in any way, to the characters in a novel? Do we let their names help to characterize them, or do we base it more on their actions and stories? With this book, some of the characters’ names just came about almost naturally. I’d be thinking of a character and – voila! – a name would come to mind and I seriously couldn’t picture them as anyone else. Others took a bit more consideration. Regardless of process, though, one thing always holds true: I want any and every name to fully embody who the character is. So many authors say that writing and having a novel published is a bit like giving birth. And, just as I fully plan to make lists of baby names one day (although I’d be lying if I said I don’t already have some in mind, but really, who doesn’t?), I put a lot of consideration into who my characters are and how that’s reflected both in action and description.

What about you? Does a book title ever influence your decision to read it? Would you spend forever and a day naming your characters? And, just because I’d really like to be able to enjoy the beautiful weather again … anyone have any insight on when the pollen count will FINALLY go down? ;-)


4 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Names! I have a hang up on names — both novel and character.

    I can’t write a character until I know their name. I have two (ridiculously thick) baby name books, one categorized by ethnicities and the other alphabetically. I’ll methodically go through them with the character’s personality in mind, searching for a name that “hits” me. I’ll make a short list. I’ll say them aloud. I’ll play with them in a scene. Then I’ll decide — and decision, once made, can be terribly hard to un-make. Because when the name becomes the character… I tend to not be able to call them anything else.

    Titles are an entirely different beast. I NEVER title WiPs until I’m tied to the railroad tracks with the train coming… and even then, I have trouble settling on a title. I’d be happier if someone else just titled everything because I simply can never do it. I refer to them by their protagonist’s first name until they have a title.

    That said, when I see titles in the book store, I don’t let them ever stop me from reading the blurb. If the blurb is intriguing, I’ll read the book. If I get a personal recommendation, I’ll read the book. But the title could be MAGGIE AND THE HOT PANTS and I’d at least read the blurb just to see if it really is about hot pants or if that title is just to be cheeky. Because you never know. In the same way, I try not to let weird cover art ever get me down, either. Insides matter before aesthetics and titles, I say!

    • Ah, I love the baby name book idea! I frequently use some of the online versions to research meanings and look up possibilities, but it must be so nice to have a concrete version. And WOW to the process you use to find those perfect names! It sounds like you leave no stone unturned. I agree with you about how important it is, though. Some people argue that the name doesn’t make a difference in the long run, but I honestly believe that it helps to show who the characters are. I relate to being unable to change the decision once it’s made, too. Once a character comes alive, it’s just all the more difficult to give them a name change. There are just some characters who you can’t envision as anyone else, you know?

      I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who sometimes has that issue with naming a WIP! It’s strange … sometimes it comes so easily, but sometimes it’s just impossible! It’s so hard to decide what best describes an entire novel. How can you represent so much with just one title? Ack! :P

      Agreed with you 110% about the insides/content mattering more than aesthetics and titles. There have been times when I’ve picked up books because the titles looked intriguing, but I’ll always read the blurb and sometimes the opening paragraphs to see if they pull me in. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there have been titles that don’t catch my attention as much, but the blurb/opening do, and I’ll remain interested irregardless of what the cover says. It’s definitely all about the writing!

  2. I obsess over character names. I always have to know their names before i start writing, otherwise i go crazy plugging in GIRL or GUY every time their name is needed somewhere. ;] I go in phases with my character names…I used to love those classic, pretty names like Elizabeth and Anna and Hannah and Laura.

    Now i choose the weirdest ones :p I have a thing with obscure genderless names and using surnames as first names right now. One of my female characters is named Sawyer, another one is Harley. And this other girl is refusing to get out of my head, and she keeps screaming that her name is Orchid. So now i have to write her story too. Sigh…some characters are SUCH divas!

    I struggle a lot more with titles. I either come up with one before i write…or it just doesn’t get titled for a loooong time. I usually use working titles like “Brother” or “Cliff Jumping” until i can think of an actual title. I always wait until i find one that clicks, that makes everything feel (for lack of a better word) magical. I love a good title; it’s what makes me pick up a book in a store, so i always feel pressured to think of a fantastic one.

    oh, and pollen needs to go away!!! i’ve been taking allergy medicine for the past four days! :/ not fun!

    • I was actually thinking of you and that discussion we had awhile back about naming characters when I was writing this post! You know, I can’t even imagine starting to write before the main characters have definitive names. Some of the more secondary ones I don’t mind deciding on as they pop up in the story, but the important ones have to be chosen in advance.

      I love the uniqueness of the names you pick! Each one makes you wonder about the story behind it and what kind of characterization is involved. Ohh, and what’s this about a new character who won’t leave you alone? What’s her story? Hmm, I’m trying to decide if Orchid brings to mind the image of a willowy, carefree girl or a more vibrant, wildchild type. Endless possibilities!

      Do you find that using working titles ever affects your ability to see the story by another name when you give it a firm title? It’s not the same situation, but I’ve been thinking of this story by one name for so long that it seems almost strange to even consider another. Totally relate to feeling pressured to come up with the perfect title … it took me forever (and so many lists!) with WALBOL!

      Ick, ick, and more ick to allergies. I hope you’re feeling better!!

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