This originally posted Jan 28, 2011. I still believe it. Words are magic. They allow the writer to talk to the reader telepathically, from anywhere in time to whenever they pick up the book. And names create an image, whether it might be the name of a business or a new gadget or a person you just met. It shapes your perception, maybe a little and maybe a lot.
I have a question for you writer’s and aspiring writers out there…do names matter?
I know there are many approaches to actually writing a novel from outlining to discovery, and every iteration between those poles. NaNoWriMo taught me to write every day, and I’ve read over and over again that when you write you should just keep going, letting it flow out the right side of your brain and fix it later in the editing phase. But my brain is already full and if I learn something new I have to forget something to make room for it, and I have no idea what that lost tidbit is going to be. It might be the great idea I had for the edit that I didn’t take the time to fix earlier.
I’m one of those people that have to fix it on the spot, if I can. I can get hung up on a scene if I’ve introduced a new character that I wasn’t planning on, and I don’t have his/her name. So much is wrapped up in a name; their whole essence is in that name. I’ve heard the horror stories of editors or publishers demanding a name change! Don’t they understand what you have invested in that name!?! You might have spent hours or even days trying to find just the perfect name. And it’s not just characters, it’s ships and planets and weapons and continents and lakes. You get the idea. This is world building, but to me it’s more than that, it’s world CRAFTING. I’ve heard people say that names don’t matter…WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!?! We world builders know different! We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into those names, they have power!
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but I do think it matters. Names set a tone and paint a word picture when they are done well. If I name my main character Rupert or Sterling, it creates an image in your head. Doesn’t it? What about Mad Dog or Killer or Whysk?
Names anchor the ambiance of your setting, whether it’s grim and dark or whimsical and magical. They evoke image and imagination. They have soul or lack soul. Names alone won’t make your story good, but I do think they can help both the writer to imagine and the reader to get absorbed. I would love to hear your opinions on this, unless you disagree with me you cretin!