What’s in a name?

Finding a name for your book is hard.

You can go through months, even years, of writing a novel and never settling on a name. I wrote my first novel in a little over two years. In those two years it was called, A New Beginning, Rule of Three and in the more frustrating times when nothing would do, it was simply saved on my computer as Sophie’s story. I then stumbled upon Head over Heart and it was perfect. It felt right and it played on the theme of the book very nicely. Sophie has to choose whether to follow what she thinks is right (what her head is telling her she should do) or what she knows to be right, in her heart. It also plays on the phrase, ‘head over heels in love’ which is how she falls for the hero. So Head over Heart stuck.

Book two is still in the early stages and is simply saved as Caitlin&Adam at the moment. I won’t know the title until I get further in, maybe even two, three drafts along. But it’ll come…..I hope!

But it is not just book titles that stump me sometimes, you have to name your characters too!

The heroine and hero of book one was easy, they have always been Sophie and James. Robert was always called Robert too. It was the secondary characters I had problems with. Tracey started life as Sarah, but as pointed out to me in a critique from an author friend, Sarah was of a similar length and looked the same on the page as Sophie, so would maybe confuse the reader. This is when she became Tracey. Which ironically fits her much better, she should have been Tracey from the start. June also changed to Anne, as June and James and Jennifer (who is now Mandy) all started with J and would also confuse the reader. I liked S’s and J’s, apparently!

But when it is a secondary character, it is easier to change names and keep writing. For my second book, my current WiP, I couldn’t find my heroine. Adam was there straight away. Whereas in Head over Heart, Sophie came first, in this book the hero was first on the scene. Quite fitting  actually, as he is a paramedic! I always knew Adam was going to be a paramedic. I don’t know how it began but I always knew that was his job. I knew his personality, too. Adam has always been Adam, he doesn’t suit any other name.  I didn’t know Caitlin. Who started as Zoe, bypassing Sal along the way. I couldn’t place her name right. It just didn’t fit. I didn’t have the right job for her (she started as a beauty therapist, did some office temping but is now an owner of a bakery) I just didn’t know who she was.

I spent days agonising over her. I couldn’t move on and write about her when she didn’t have a name, a personality or even a job! I then spoke to a friend about it and throwing caution to the wind I said to her, ‘you do it, you name the character.’ She reeled off 5 or 6 names but as soon as she said Caitlin, I knew that was her. It was perfect. She strolled into my brain in an apron and holding a tray of cupcakes and I knew her.

So I finally had names and an idea to work with. It is still in the early stages but it’s got a destination and we are getting there slowly.

How do you find naming characters and thinking up titles?

Lucie x

32 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I actually don’t have too much trouble finding the title. Sometimes that’s what actually kick starts me. My first completed novel is called Divided Loyalties, and it was perfect for themes in the book I’d always wanted to write about.
    As to names of characters – I’m exactly like you. I have to have the right name or I don’t feel I know them. And once the right name comes to me, it always seems so obvious I can’t think why I didn’t think of it before.
    Good post, thank you, Lucie.

    • I love the title, Divided Loyalties! Really makes me want to read it to find out why. Fab!

      Yes, It is frustrating when you can’t just get on with it until you ‘find’ them. And like you say, even more frustrating when you do place them and think ‘why didn’t I think of this before!’

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Lucie x

  2. Naming is one of those things that will bless you or torment you, in my experience. I often can’t even start drafting unless I have a strong title or a solid protagonist name first.

    If the names I’ve chosen don’t speak of the book’s themes or style, I’ll get nowhere.

    • I agree, Joe, and unfortunately I think it tends to torment me more often than not. However, I do always get there in the end which is the main thing.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Lucie x

  3. I’ve searched through quotations linked to the main theme of my story to help me find a title. My latest release ‘Fragarance of Violets’ came after I’d searched for quotes about forgiveness. When I found Mark Twain’s quote, ‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it’, I knew immediately that I’d found my title!
    I tend to know my main characters’ names as soon as I start thinking about the story, but agree with you about finding secondary characters’ names sometimes!

    • What an interesting title, could mean so many things. A lovely quote too.

      Thanks for coming by
      Lucie x

  4. My novel currently has a single name title. Whether that will be the final title remains to be seen. But the main characters named themselves. I didn’t have to think about them – I knew what their names were, almost as if they were real people that had just entered my thoughts.

    • I like single named titles, very punchy and effective. I’m yet to find one personally, but love to see it on a cover.
      I am the same with some characters. Adam was a certainty straight away, as was Sophie and James. But I do have a few occasions where they just wont come and say hi. I have to drag them out of my subconscious and force them to show themselves. Once they know me, then they are more willing to let go 🙂

      Thanks for your comment and for swinging by!
      Lucie x

  5. Amazingly, my husband is pretty good at coming up with titles. It’s just as well as I’m not. He instantly, when told the premise of my novel, came up with ‘The Road Back’.

    The current wip is called ‘A Bargain Struck’, but that didn’t come from him. I took that from a quote that I found which was spot on for the theme of the book.

    My DH also came up with ‘Into the Oxford Night’ for the short story that will be coming out in the Oxford Writers’ Group’s fourth anthology of stories set in Oxford – I did the story of Matilda escaping Stephen’s siege of Oxford Castle in 1141. Yes, he’s pretty good at thinking of titles.

    I’m with everyone who’s commented about names of their characters – the name has to be perfect for that character, and for the period in which the novel’s set.

    Liz X

    • What a handy man to have around when writing a book, Liz! You could auction off his talent to other writers….. just an idea 😉

      I am very much looking forward to reading ‘A Road Back’ and we wish you lots of success with it. And also lots of good luck with working on ‘A Bargain Struck.’

      It does seem to be common with many writers to have the need of a characters names before he/she can continue the work.

      Lucie x

  6. Titles are funny old things. Most of the time I start off with one, but when I don’t I’m useless at thinking one up. My current work in progress started off with a title, but the storyline went off on such a tangent the title was no longer relevant. So I come up with a few more and did a bit of a poll between friends, my writing group, anyone who would answer the question. Turned out to be a useful exercise and the majority decision is now the book’s title – Miles Between Us 🙂

    • I love ‘Miles Between Us’ as a title, Catherine. Great idea for an exercise within a group, too. Similar to me asking my friend to name a few for my heroine. It’s always helpful to get other’s perception on things, isn’t it?

      Lucie x

  7. I’m new to all this, but my WIP has had three titles so far. I am currently dithering between two of them. The characters’ names just appeared. They were there immediately and it was quite odd because they’re not even names I would normally use or think of really. They just popped in my head as I was writing and stuck there. Couldn’t imagine them being called anything else!

    • I went through many titles for my first book. I think that maybe the more we write, the easier it will be to pinpoint a title quicker….maybe? I don’t know.
      I have had the situation, like yourself, where the names just ‘appear’ and you know it is right. It’s a shame the whole book doesn’t always come like that, eh!

      Best of luck, Sharon, and thanks for commenting 🙂
      Lucie x

  8. My female character in my previous WIP started off with quite a ‘nice’ name and afterwards it was pointed out to me that she was too nice so when I rewrote I toughened her up and realised that her name didn’t suit her anymore. Took a few days, but I eventually came up with a much more appropriate one, it goes better with her stronger personality.

    • I completely see what you mean, Sue, it is SO important for the name to fit. You can’t have a nasty villain and call her Rosie, or a nun and call her Betty Big Boobs (too far? sorry!)

      I do think it is important to have the name reflect the character’s, erm, character! Like Giselle Green says about her characters and the Zodiac starsigns. I think it all slots together perfectly.

      Lucie x

    • Going off track is our way, Bex! That is how we roll! If we get into a debate between ourselves and you actually look at the initial question and the topic we end up on – miles away! 🙂

      My husband picked the name for our daughter when I was pregnant. We had a boy and a girls name. I was um-ing and ah-ing over the girls name he picked; was it too old, did it fit, did I like it? It wasn’t until she was born that I looked at her and said, that’s her! He picked well! (But don’t tell him I said that!)

  9. Great post, and very timely for me! My debut, Sophie’s Turn, started out as an idea called ‘Star-struck’ many, many years ago. When I got to writing it in earnest, I chose a title that seemed to suit better, and for six long years, my masterpiece was known as Full Circle. It was only when I tried to design a nifty cover that I realised that the title was totally inadequate. Actually, that was quite a heart-wrenching experience as I was rather attached to FC. My lovely husband forced me to crystallise my thinking, we came up with a cover (the original pink one with the signpost, for those of you who may remember) and the title ‘fell’ out of that.

    Now the Sequel… my God, what heartache! Question one, whether to stay with the theme and brand, and keep Sophie in the title? Or question two, whether to choose a title to encapsulate the main event or development? I had three runners up (or was it for? Sue might remember) but in the end I stuck with…. Sophie’s Run. Watch this space!

    And part 3… well, I’ll tackle that later in the summer! Great post, Romaniacs, as always! I love your blog. XX

    • Thank you, Nicky!

      I think Sophie is a great name for a heroine, I see quite a few people use it and I think it’s a very strong, feminine and usable name for a heroine. 🙂

      Interesting how you came up with your title. I wonder if I was to try and create a cover for my second book, the title would come to me? I may try that….

      Thanks so much for following us, we love your blog too! 🙂
      Lucie x

  10. I love looking through baby name books and baby name sites on the internet – you’re right, the hero/heroine’s names have to be just right and sometimes it’s so hard to find the perfect one! If I hear unusual names I try to write them down though to keep on file, then I have a few handy for when I need them 🙂 As for titles, they’re even trickier, aren’t they. Yours sounds brilliant! I got my next one, The Silent Touch of Shadows, from a poem, although can’t remember which one now!

  11. Glad you finally managed to post, Pia! Lovely to have you here.

    I lost my baby names book shortly after LO was born, I reckon I must have lent it out. I do trawl online sites of names, though. Good tip about writing unusual ones down. I often want to find something different but never know where to start.

    I’m really pleased that a lot of people seem to like my title – that’s half the battle of the front page won already! 🙂 It took me so long to find the perfect title, it’s very satisfying to hear it is well received.

    I really like the title, The Silent Touch of Shadows, it’s very mysterious – I love it. Looking forward to reading that one.

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting, even if it did take you numerous attempts. Your commitment is appreciated 🙂

    Lucie x

  12. The book I am submitting at the moment has had five titles. I quite liked the first but after starting out, I realised the book wasn’t working and started again from scratch. The whole feel of the book had changed and the title had to change too.

    I love ‘working out’ names but titles are a nightmare.

    • I agree, Mama J, titles are very hard! They are one of the first things that a reader will see so if it is really bad, you are already at risk of putting them off reading it!

      Thanks for your comment
      Lucie x

  13. Names. It’s a biggie isn’t it?

    Gunshot Glitter went through a whole bunch of names before it became Gunshot Glitter. It was The Birthday Present, Steel Heels, Meet Cornelia Friend and for about five minutes, You Can Try Me For Free. I’m still quite fond of the latter actually! I was faced with the prospect I might be forced to rename it after some doubts on a legal issue but was relieved to discover I was in the clear as book titles cannot be copyrighted unless trademarked or part of series e.g Harry Potter and the …

    But with character names, what I discovered was that some names stuck and others changed when I got to know my characters more. I have a mother in my novel who for 2 years was a Jayne and she became a Sinead. A protective brother figure who was a Stephen who became a Luke. It was the images those names conjured in my head. The more vivid the characters became the more my heart said ‘ nooo that’s NOT their name, Yasmin!’ But I felt oddly foolish listening to that clamour of dissent like I should have twigged it far earlier on.

    So what I’d say is, don’t feel shy of renaming characters if your vision of them morphs over time : )

    I can see other commentators feel that way too! The other thing I’d say is like when you buy a home, you’ll get that feeling of rightness, if you don’t have it with a novel, it’s cool to just call it a working title : ) Takes the pressure off!

    • What a fab way of looking at it, Yasmin!

      I think there is a lot of pressure these days to get things right first time and I really think what you say about it being ‘OK’ to change is a breath of fresh air. With deadlines to meet and goals to reach, sometimes it is easy to lose sight of what really matters, and that is the story itself.

      And Gunshot Glitter…..LOVE IT!

      Lucie xx

  14. Hi Lucie
    Truth Or Dare? started life as Cabbage or Mother? Intrinsically, they are the same, but once I had settled on ToD (and there were a few variations on the theme), I realised I needed to ensure the theme was present throughout the story.
    I love choosing names. I took a long time to decide and agree on names for my children. It is no different for my characters.
    Firstly, the name must carry the right associations. My children have names with which I have happy associations. It is the same with my hero and heroine.
    Secondly, because I err on the dark side of writing, there is usually a crime or a death involved and I cannot bring myself to give the victim a name of a family member or a friend, and thirdly, I like to investigate the meanings of names and if I find one that fits the plot, I use that. For example; Eve – the first woman. I think that would be a great name for the wife of the president of the USA. I wouldn’t point it out, but I would know what I had done 🙂 xx

  15. Yes Laura, I agree. Names are very important to the character themselves. And like you say, It is not always necessary to spell it out and show people what you have done, so long as you know why it is like that, it’s enough.

    Cabbage or Mother still makes me chuckle everytime I read it – so many meanings it could have. I can’t wait to read your book! 🙂

    Lucie xx

  16. I do understand this so well! My current WIP is on its fourth title, having started out as “Novel 2”! Progress has been made, but I have no guarantee that the current title will be the final!

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