Monday, June 8, 2009

What's in a Name?

I have long believed that a person's name does more than give them something to be called by; it shapes and defines personality in subtle ways that, short of being able to see parallel universes where the same person is given two different names with which to lead the same life, can't be measured. It's a force that can't be pinpointed, but which everyone seems to understand on an intuitive level. It's the reason that authors create pseudonyms, actors create stage names, and parents choose names for their children from the names of stars and heroes of their generation. There are certain names that resonate with an adventurous personality and others that are happy working nine-to-five jobs and tinkering in the yard on the weekend.

When it comes to characters, names play just as important a role. A character named Marjorie Goldwaith conjures up a different character than one named Maggie Goodwate. Choosing names for the characters in my novels has taken as short as a few seconds to as long as days, weeks, and months, depending on how quickly I find a fit. In my second Madison novel, I've changed the names of one of the secondary characters midway through the second novel without realizing it until I looked back over my notes. It changed because the character changed from who I thought he was, and the first name I choose for him no longer fit.

The crowning example for me of the importance of a name is my main character's name. Madison Fox was not always her name. In the first draft, it was Bridget Fox. I liked Bridget. She was a curly redhead, spunky, with a little more enthusiasm than intelligence, and a gifted way of walking through the world with a permanent cloak of innocence about her shoulders. Somehow, this is how "Bridgets" are defined in my head, having never known a Bridget.

When I got to the end of the first novel and started the reread, I didn't completely like Bridget. She lacked the core of strength I knew she was going to need for future novels. Bridget Fox would have made a great character for a stand-alone novel. She was going to falter and fail in a trilogy.

Keeping in mind the decade in which my protagonist would have been born, her parents, and the scope of the series, I tried out a few different names until I hit upon Madison. Madison fit. Madison was just a shade darker, a touch more cynical. She has steel fused at the center of her personality. Her looks were different, too. Madison did not have red hair, and it definitely wasn't curly. It was dark and thick, with a little body. She was a little paler, without Bridget's freckles. She was also smarter but lazier, just as enthusiastic, but with a well-honed ability to think on her feet when her lack of foresight (frequently) lands her in trouble.

I've written book two, and "Madison" still fits. When I think of book three and all the plots I have, "Madison" still works. I am so very, very thankful that my character's names are malleable. I have a feeling that if I'm ever given the chance to name anything with a real birth certificate, I'll be filling out legal documents for a name change before that being is five years old.

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