Yves Brown McClain: Literary Fierceness

What’s in a Name?

Posted by Dahlia on March 28, 2011

I’m baaaack! Did ya miss me?

I took a week off from the blog and twitter, but life still carried on as normal, including having my rewritten chapter one workshopped in my creative writing course. Quick refresher: I scrapped my prologue and did a complete rewrite of it as chapter one. I only retained about five percent of the prologue. I took the feedback from the CMIYC blogfest under consideration as I rewrote it. I then turned in the completed chapter for critique in class. It was a bit nerve-wracking because outside of the first 500 words, it hadn’t been read by anyone else and I was submitting it to people who didn’t know me. Therefore, there was no holding back the truth.

I’m happy to state it went very well in class. One classmate wouldn’t stop talking about it. My instructor said it “worked for her”. She gave me wonderful feedback, said the voice was great and that she could really see this MC until the last few lines when I finally reveal the MC’s name (which was intentional). It was when the name was revealed she was given a shock because up until that point, she was convinced my MC was female. I gave my MC (who is female) a name that is generally a man’s name. She had to go back and reread parts of it to make sure the MC was indeed a woman. She stated that the core of the story can be applied to either gender so I had either written some awesome chick lit or have ventured off into LGBT fiction. Guess I have not only a great female voice, but a pretty fabulous homosexual man’s voice in my writing. All of this came out of the MC’s name. Let me tell you, the name choice was the last thing I expected to get such a strong reaction out of.

Side note: When our work is being critiqued, the writer is anonymous until the end. So, I’m trying to keep my poker face on, but I’m screaming in my head “Not a dude, not a dude, girl parts, girl parts!”

I have been working on my WIP for a long time, so of course I was attached to the name. But to witness such a strong reaction is an indicator that perhaps her name wasn’t a wise choice (It’s like American Idol, choosing the wrong song, despite how well you sing, can get you voted off) If the reaction hadn’t been so strong, I probably would’ve never considered it. But when a few of my classmates agreed with her, I saw that I needed to at least consider changing it. Character names can be as significant to the story as the plot and while I knew I could incorporate into the remainder of the story the reason behind her name (and also set up some good dialogue about having a man’s name), I didn’t want there to be doubt from chapter one as to her gender.

I presented my dilemma to a few friends. One was a writer friend and two were good non-writer friends of mine – one is an avid reader, the second represents my ideal audience. There was the suggestion that I add a middle name that was more feminine (which I already had), but all could see the potential problem with her current name. For me, names are very important and just as in life, that name can have a story or reason behind it.

So, if I were going to change her name, the following factors needed to be considered:

  • It had to match her character — a young, educated, professional woman
  • It needed to be a surname – the backstory being she was given her mothers maiden name as a first name and I didn’t want to change that.
  • Since the MC’s first name is her mother’s maiden name, that name had to flow/sound good with the mother’s first name.
  • It did need to keep an element of androgyny (for a reason to be revealed later in the story)

At the end of the day, it is my story and the decision about what I do with criticism/feedback is mine as the writer. Not all feedback is good feedback. I can take it or leave it. However, in this situation, it was a pretty critical element to the character herself and I had to let go of my attachment to the original name. Was I willing to cause confusion and potentially lose reader interest because of a first name? I decided I wasn’t and therefore I changed it. The name came to me as I was waking up the next morning and I immediately texted all three friends my selection. They all loved it and my MC’s name was officially changed. Confirmation comes in threes.

Want to meet my MC? Here she is: Kendall Nelson: The daughter of Deborah Kendall and John Nelson. She’s young, attractive, educated, independent, single, and has an appreciation of all things fine — food, alcohol, shoes, and men, but not necessarily in that order.

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8 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Lydia K said

    I like your character’s name! And it sounds like you got some great feedback (and praise). 🙂

  2. I must say I do like the name – its unique and different – making her sound interesting and arresting – many first names started as surnames

  3. Lisa Nowak said

    Isn’t it interesting what readers pick up on? I’m glad you found a name that you liked. My inclination probably would have been to try to work something in to make it clear she was female w/o having to change the name.

    I have a character in the book I’m just finishing up now who started out as “Alex” because I couldn’t find the perfect name for him. It was just sort of a placeholder name, but it’s a name I like. By the time I got done with the outline, he really felt like “Alex” to me, so I left it. Now I can’t imagine him as anything else.

  4. Catherine Johnson said

    How wonderful to meet real people to discuss your ms. I would struggle with a poker face too 🙂 I love the new name! Glad you embraced it so gracefully, a name you’ve had for a long time is hard to part with.

  5. Hi, you say “I scrapped my prologue and did a complete rewrite of it as chapter one.” Snap! I have done that with a novel I first wrote about ten years ago, (Well 14 years ago I think but it has been gathering dust since then.)The name source was interesting too – you probably know that in Scotland it has been the custom to give baby girls the maiden name of their mother as a middle name and sometimes as a first name. Hence, my mother-in-law’s middle name is Downie. Yes,feedback is good if you know how to take it 🙂

  6. […] in order to make it the best possible story. Some of my changes have been documented here, such as scrapping my prologue and changing my main character’s name. Both decisions were made for the good of the story. Getting rid of the prologue and turning it […]

  7. […] in order to make it the best possible story. Some of my changes have been documented here, such as scrapping my prologue and changing my main character’s name. Both decisions were made for the good of the story. Getting rid of the prologue and writing a […]

  8. […] to two trusted friends that are honest (the same two out of three that assisted me with the whole name-changing dilemma) and both liked it. However, one indicated there was a transition issue from part one to part two. […]

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