What’s in a name, anyway?

I’m taking “becoming” a novelist seriously.  Which is why I’m fussing over whether to have my narrative in the first-person, third-person, or third-person omniscient voice.  Plot synopsis.  Character development.  Organizing my hyper imagination.  And now, the overwhelming problem of names. Or should I say, name-giving.

To help myself in this process, I intently remembered what many authors mentioned: how (importance-wise and labor-wise) naming your characters is the same as naming your first-born child (or any child).  How it requires a lot of thought, concentration, common sense, and research.  Well, the latter statement is mine, and I just found out it’s as true as the former statement.

Looking at baby name books is an embarrassing job.  If you’re not “expecting” or even considering having possible descendants in the near-not-so-distant future, you will try, like me, to cover up those dust jackets and make sure the librarians or booksellers in the surrounding vicinity don’t even catch a peek at the titles.  Otherwise, you’re going to get questions.  Lots and lots of bombarding, blush-provoking questions.  And plenty of smirks too, even if you reply in the negative to the “you’re planning on having children?” inquiry.  Therefore, avoid public places, check out or buy your name “Bibles” as fast as you can, and escape to a secluded room before even perusing the wealth of name-calling in your hands.

Aside from expected derision automatically included in your new literary association, all baby books of names are, in a word, exhausting.  Don’t even begin to count the tired look you get from looking at a title like “75,000+ Names…”  There are literally thousands and thousands of available identities out there, counting or not counting nicknames, spin-offs, and derivatives.  Oh, and those horrible “popular now” options.  My journey through the land of names got even worse when I compared 5 different name books at the same time…and each name I checked had a different meaning and origin in every single book.  Perhaps that’s why, for a brief moment of time (circa 10 seconds), I thought maybe it would be best to gather a dozen names I liked, divide them by gender, and then do random drawings for each character’s possible name.  Which would obviously not really work.  Who wants characters named by chance?  I’m the creator here!

Then my mom brushed aside my concerns over the tedious task of surnames and good-fitting first names by suggesting I focus first on something more important than names: character development.  Although it’s not true that people’s names match their characters in real life, perhaps it would be easier to select suitable names after I learn more about my characters and understand them better.  Using temporary names now for the sake of clarity in my rough draft may or may not complicate matters, but at least I’ll find out if the names I’ve already chosen “fit” or if there are better, bolder names out there for my characters.

You really can’t choose between baby name books any more than you can choose between…napkins.  They all look good.  They all have something to offer.  Shakespeare was wrong: names have meaning and power all in themselves.  But in the midst of newfound confusion and the secret excitement of doing something utterly new, I am still more than a little intrigued by the world of names and what they mean to every animated and non-animated thing.  Names are one of those abstract ideas you can’t quite put your finger on.  Maybe that’s why they essentially mean so much—to authors, to novels, to people, to animals, to nature, and to existence itself.

I’ll keep looking.  To names across the world: I’m on the hunt.  Impress me.

Natalie Gorna

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