“You did a blog piece on naming things three days ago!” some mouth in the back complains.
I signal Security to keep an eye on that one, then patiently explain, “No, the post to which you refer was about titling. This post is about naming.”
“What’s the difference?!”
Precious little, actually. After all, a title (I recap) is an identifying name. And a name, of course, is “a word or words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from others”. That’s probably not news to anybody. We’re all of us decently familiar with the concept of names, right? I’ll even go so far as to assume that most of us have them; even the chatterbox in the back, though I’ve yet to learn it.
To inform the curious, it took me close to a full minute to decide on the name “Milt”. Even my outspoken extras are named with some measure of care. Names matter to me, like that.
When I was a kid, virtually everything got named. Figures in doodles that I’d never draw again. The animatronic farmer who rode his tractor around the ceiling at the mall. My fashion dolls and action figures, my stuffed animals, my ninety-nine identical green marbles (much to my mother’s amusement). Some of these names were sadly predictable – Fluffy the bunny, Blacky the black bear… nothing you’d never see coming, like my sister’s stuffed rabbit, Uncle Ruddyduck. Some were trying a little too obviously to be clever – Huckleberry Fin the fish, Claire-Annette the clarinet… nothing awesomely off-the-wall, like my sister’s goldfish, Dog.
I used to spend a lot of time wondering what to name my future children. For years, I assumed there’d be a son named Jeremy. Then I fell for a boy named let’s-call-him-“Dean”, and wondered if we ought to keep up a family tradition of “D” names for all our offspring. (It became a moot point, by the way; that adolescent love story ended up being painfully one-sided.) I could never settle long on names for my hypothetical girls. Felicity? Ida? Delicatessen? (That would have worked in the Dean scenario!) I still don’t having anything written in stone – and I’m not currently too enthused about the idea of bearing children, anyway – though I’m lately leaning toward Tailor for a boy and Kevyn for a girl. (When in doubt, name your babies in honor of some of your strongest crushes, right? Let’s shoot for three kids and have a Dean, why don’t we.)
People who hate naming things should probably not become authors of fiction. And authors of fiction who love naming things, rejoice! A novel is a naming playground, full of people and places and pets and peculiar miscellany in need of identification. But for all that I enjoy naming characters, I do not take it lightly. These are names that I’ll have to see and say and type over and over. These names might well be the first my readers will know of the character in question: Before appearance, before voice, before any of the incalculable things that make him or her themselves… we’re told the name.
I want the name to suit the character absolutely. If I’m in the creation process and the name doesn’t feel right, it’s back to the drawing board (or the book or website dedicated to inspiring people like me who have babies to name). Some of the names that have made the cut are fairly standard – Sam, Jason, Bruno. Some of the names I strung together out of whimsical bits and pieces – Austeryn, Kel-Korrel, Christopher Washington Geoffrey Alexander Riverwood II. Whatever seems like a perfect fit in sight, sound, meaning, or some combination thereof. Whichever name I’ll always know as theirs, no matter how many other “Jason”s or “Austeryn”s I’ll encounter down the road.
“So how’d you come to settle on ‘Milt’?!” inquiring minds in the back want to know.
I don’t know. Flipping through an arbitrary list of options, it just seemed you-est.
“I like ‘Kent’!”
Kent Milton, then. (We nod in mutual satisfaction.)