Monday, September 27, 2010

Names are Easy. Marketing is Hard.

Patrick Hester, Functional Nerd, and author/blogger/podcaster-extraodinaire posed an interesting note on what is one of the most difficult things for him on his blog recently: Names.

It's funny because of the different stories I've read of his, they all have good to great names. His worry and concern are probably more a mark of a perfectionist, hoping for the very best, than anything else. But it also made me think about the topic of names. Part of my reply is below. Go check out the full post and I (and I'm sure Patrick) would be interested in hearing what you think.

"Names are up there for me too. But it’s all artificial. I think it comes out of a need to feel like you’ve made the perfect character. Who is not only so real they almost breathe–in all their imperfections and convictions but in their name fitting them like a “T”. However, especially in this age, this is just a hole of wasted time we create for ourselves. Call the bloke Sam the Man and then when a great name comes to you eventually through the interactions within the story: “Find and Replace” comes in very handy.

As to your question, sometimes I get a fun character name, but a lot of the time I do as you said, and think of the rest of my names in the MS, pick a letter that hasn’t been used much, sound out some variants and then grab one and go with it. A lot of what goes into a name is not the name but how we build the character. I mean, how boring of a name is Harry Potter? (Sorry to anybody out there actually named Harry Potter, but it’s not like I’m named Xavier MacFillion or anything.) It’s all about marketing, and I think you know a thing or two about that..."
So in other words, like many aspects of world-building. Don't worry. Make a silly, or normal name. Make it quick and move on. You need to finish that story and getting mired in the world won't help your story-arc...usually. If you write compelling characters, have an interesting plot and weave a good story it will sell your character names, your place names and everything else. How about Google? What a goofy name. Yet it is now part of the language and almost synomous with cool intelligence.

I'll take a couple steps backward in my conviction by noting that it might all depend on how you work. Perhaps you have story elements tied into the name and it needs to be perfect because many other things play off of it. Now looking at it that way I will agree that many elements in a story get tied to and back to many other things. If not, you aren't being very cohesive and your story might seem to lack flow. However, don't forget: You can revise. So if you find something holding you up from creating your Opus, make a quick fix and move on. Writing a novel is not easy, it isn't done in a day, and it certainly isn't done in one pass. I'm on the third draft of Hestea Hammerblood, more like the fourth and I can still see a lot to finish up. 'Course I'm not a professional. I haven't gotten paid yet for any of this foolishness, so what do I know?

What do you think?


  1. I try to watch that I don't use the same letter for more than one character. Sometimes it can be helped and sometimes it can't. Depends on the story.

    By the way, I think I forgot to mention I gave you an award on my blog on Thursday-Friday, Clifton. Congratulations!

  2. I already have the "main" characters' names set before I start, usually. It's the NPC-folk who I sometimes struggle with... and just pick something random or google a word and use whatever comes up. Ultimately, the name doesn't make a lot of difference, especially if it can't be pronounced easily, because people will just think of them as "that guy" anyway.

  3. @Jeffrey - An Award, wow! What was it for? *time to go check*

    @T.D. Newton - For throwaway characters I tend to go for simple names, though not too much, otherwise everyone will think, "Ah-hah! I don't have to care about this guy, cuz he's gonna die!" Like the red shirts on Star Trek (right? It was red, wasn't it?).

    Yeah, ultimately names don't make that big of a deal as long as you make them consistent with the world, make them reasonably pronouncable and keep enough variety to distinguish. The cool factor will come through a lot better with your characterization than with the actual name.

    Writing challenge: tell a story that makes a character with a ridiculous name sound cool/tough/sophisticated.

  4. I have a bad habit of getting into a groove with first letters. My recently completed Manuscript had 4 (count'em!) H names- find and replace! My current WIP wants to have all M's. I'm putting my food down early on this one :)

  5. Hi Lela, thanks for hopping on over here. When I think of a name with the same first letter of others I immediately stop and try to think of another. Doesn't always work. But perfection isn't necessary.


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.