What is in a name?

Hidey-Ho!  J here.  Happy weekend to you!  It was a pretty big week in the world of J.  I bought a new car.  Not just a new-to-me car, no-no.  An honest-to-God new car.  Never driven by another human (well, the dealer took it to the gas station…)  A NEW car.  The first I’ve ever owned. 

Of course the first thing I did (after sucking in lungful of that luscious smell) was to name the car.  Meet Ailey, my brandy-new, alien green Kia Soul.

Then I introduced Ailey to my hubby.  He looked at me in bewilderment.  “You named the car?” he asked. 

“Of course I named the car,” I replied in equal bewilderment.  “Ailey and I will be together for the next dozen years…she deserves a name.”

“It’s a she?” he replied.  This could be where the conversation went off the rails. 

Maybe it’s a Mars and Venus thing, but I name everything important to me.  Kids, pets, cars, laptops…I named his black mini cooper “Pearl” (after Mini Pearl or the Black Pearl – depending on your generation).  Hubby and I have been together for over fifteen years.  How is it possible that naming the car came as a surprise to him?  I had just traded in my trusty, long-time pal Griswold (the family truckster-ish minivan). 

Maybe this naming of objects  isn’t a Man/Woman thing, but rather a writer thing.  We create characters, people who live solely in our imagination until we capture them on the page.  And we name them…in fact, I might have spent more time coming up with character names for my upcoming novella (The Fearsome Dane – look for it in June) than I did devising names for my children. 

When I’m developing character names, I like to have a shadow of the person in my head first.  Maybe just a hint of their physical traits and a nugget about their attitude toward life.  For example, I’m working on a romance and I spent some time naming the heroine.  Her name is Chastity but that comes with a lot of emotional baggage for her, so she’s chosen to go by the nickname Chase.  None of the active characters know that Chase isn’t her actual given name.  She’s subconsciously hiding from that time in her life and therefore, she’s been hiding her name, without really meaning to.

I’ve heard authors say they have trouble naming characters, but that part of the process comes easily to me.  For me, the hard part is staying on task writing the actual story, without getting distracted by the zillion other newer, shinier stories that pop into my brain.

I have a baby name reference book handy and once I’ve got that shadow of the character dancing in my head, I start trolling through the book to see what kind of name appeals to me.  I try to stay away from names that are too closely linked with another story.  For example, I’m pretty unlikely to have characters named Edward or Bella for quite a while.  Same with Harry, Percy, Nancy or Aslan.  And I try to stay away from names on the US Social Security top 100.  How interesting that Jacob and Isabella are the top names for 2010.  Edward is all the way down at 131 on the top 200 for the decade.  Wow…I thought there were more Team Edward people out there.  Let’s represent people!  PS: my favorite of the Twilight series is actually the unfinished Midnight Sun.  Check it out if you get a chance – it’s at the end of Stephenie’s explanation of why it wasn’t finished.  Flarkin’ book thieves!  But, I digress.

Today’s Secret: If it’s important, I give it a name.  My husband is just lucky I haven’t created a backstory for Ailey yet.  There’s time.

Today’s Question: Do you name things?  How do you approach naming characters?

18 thoughts on “What is in a name?”

  1. All of my previous cars have had names and genders. I don’t know how to explain how I “know” this, but i just do. I’ve given them names such as Tank, Star, Beauty, and the Eggmobile (a white Ford Windstar that my kids named). I’ve named my quad, la Luna Bella (she’s bright yeallow), and my most recent car is a she and is called Misty (a misty grey blue that I couldn’t bring myself to call Slate).

    Names of characters come to me before almost anything else in a story. Essentially, they name themselves and then come to me with a problem. Such is a writers mind…

    1. I like Slate…a nice strong name. Maybe you should reconsider…nah…it’s your car – of course you should go with the name that speaks to you! 🙂 Glad to know I’m not alone here…

  2. LOL, I don’t name cars. When I decide to write a story it is becasue the characters came to me with names, personalities and quirks, begging that their stories be told. On any given day around my house I walk around speaking the dialog before I put it down on paper. I just can’t shut them up. AND I love that. Marian

    1. some people would think you need to be exorcised to rid you of the voices in your head, but we writers know better, don’t we?

  3. I’m laughing because I name my car too. I have an Isuzu Rodeo by the name if Izzie. It’s a girl, because she’s an automatic (No stick) 😉 I adore Izzie and we have been together for a LONG time. I pray we stay together for a lot longer. My lap top is “Ace” My Nook is Nick. I even name plants! I have a cactus by the name of Poncho. I don’t think it’s a writer thing, because a friend of mine has a son who names his cars too, and he is not a writer. Congratulations and best of luck with Ailey.

  4. I don’t bother naming my car because I’m almost never in it since I work from home. Nice new ride though!

    And characters – they usually name themselves which is very kind of them.

  5. I like the idea of naming cars. We really need to name our cars. We have three, 2 are insights, then we have one that we drag my art around in when I do a show. Right now we call the cars by color. It is a good thing we have cars that have different colors. White, Gray, Black. I guess it works. Rather than the year of each. Of course there is the issue of gender. My characters were named by history. I didn’t have to think up names. For our cars, too much to think about, color works. Thanks for a fun post.

    1. We used to have all black cars, but a mini van and a mini cooper…we could have called them Biggie and Midget I guess…or something like that. 🙂

    1. Nice! Mix it up. I almost always call my boys by their brother’s name. You’d think I’d get it right at least some of the time, but shockingly I’m almost always wrong…

  6. Funny you should bring up naming characters, J. In my current WIP, I have a love interest (can’t really call him a hero, since it’s a mystery and it’s Caroline’s story) … and he still doesn’t have a name. I’ve been calling him Steve, but I my gut is telling me that’s not his real name, and I can’t quite bring myself to call him “bagel” (you CTRWAers will know what I mean by that!). So he’s Steve for now until his true identity presents itself. Hopefully soon. As for objects, I do name some. For many years I drove a giant black Crown Vic that I inherited from my in-laws. She was Black Beauty or the Black Mariah, depending on my mood. My last car didn’t have a name. I haven’t yet bonded with my new-to-me silver Camry, so she is unnamed for now. My old laptop I call Dell-ilah, but my new HP isn’t named. I think it’s a guy though. Love the new J-Mobile! What do the young Js think about it?

  7. You think it’s hard to name things as a writer? Try being a teacher! You get one kid and then that name is ruined forever! It was so hard to name the girls! I’m just glad we didn’t have any boys!!

    1. WOW, I never thought of that! I can see how that’d happen though. Yeesh…I’ve got lots of villain names ready, myself…those who crossed in years past, be forewarned!

    2. That is so true. There have been about five names TRULY ruined for me. I feel sorry for my future children.

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