Names and Titles… and their problems

Posted: May 18, 2013 in Details about my books, Writing Stuff
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, it’s not the names that have problems. It’s more like that I have a lot of problems with names. I’ve talked a lot about names in my previous posts, but I decided to dedicate an entire post about them. Simply put, I’m not very good at making up names. This is especially a problem for me who writes epic fantasy, and has to make up exotic names. (I’m always hesitant about naming mythical creatures modern names like Jimmy, Jake, etc.)

As such, I generally change the names in my books often. I’ve told this story many times, but I’ll tell it again. In the Line of Corruption, I started the story with the names: Ryder and Simon. Those were the names of the two main characters. I was okay with them, but when I hit the 10k mark, I stopped and thought: “No… Definitely not a Ryder or a Simon.”

So, I asked my sister for random names, and I took them. They ended up becoming Ambrose and Larik. For one of the other characters, I translated a word into Latin, and used it. I’ve actually forgotten what it means, and I’m rather afraid it might ruin the image that I’ve made up for the character, looking back on it. But yes, that is how I ended up with Esurien. Now, the problem here is that I sometimes need to make up names on the spot. They end up being stereotypical, or too weird. So, the word replacement option on Word and Scrivener is a godsend for someone like me who can’t make up names properly. The reason I bring this up is because I want to know how other writers go about this. I read a topic awhile back about the names of a writer’s characters, and a lot of the other writers mention being attached to a name. Once they change the name, the character changes. So, I am curious to know if this is the same for anyone else, or are they like me. I’m sure I probably wouldn’t have been able to change their names past the 10k mark, since I definitely would have gotten attached. However, does anyone else struggle with names? Does anyone else look at a name of a central character, and think: “This name is so bad that I actually want to turn him into a villain now.”

Here’s a perfect example of how bad I am with names. For a religious figure in my book, I couldn’t think up of a name… so I just called him the Believer. It ended up actually working, but it could have been disastrous. In fact, it could still be disastrous, and I’m simply blind to it. (Lots of italics today, I know.)

So, yes, here’s my question for all of you cool writers: Are names integral to how you write a character, or are they merely dispensable? Another followup question: Are you actually good at making up exotic names?

Now I’m going to move unto the next topic. Titles. I think my problem with titles is much bigger. In comparison, I probably come up with titles a lot easier, however, my thoughts on them are very different. I’m okay with changing names willy nilly. But, when I start a story without a title, that’s practically all I think about. I reread what I’d just written, and while I do that, I see a phrase and think: “Huh. Wonder if I should make THAT the title… or THAT.”

So, before I actually wrote the Line of Corruption, I sat for an entire hour, and thought about the title. The basic outline I had for the story was this: This chosen one kills a lot of people, and is condemned as a villain. His legacy is passed unto a mercenary.

At some point, I actually thought the title should be, ‘The Chosen One that has a mercenary as a successor… Oh, he’s also dead. But because of magic… It’s a long story.’

A bit exaggerated, perhaps, but it really isn’t very far off from the truth. For Radio Silence, I came up with the title when I was thinking about submitting it to Jukepop Serials. The reason why I was able to live with it not having a title is because I planned on it being a story written for fun. I’d just finished writing Line of Corruption, and I wanted to write something for no reason. Just took an idea and jumped off a cliff with it, basically.

So, I’m going to tell you how I came up with the Line of Corruption, as well as Radio Silence.

For Line of Corruption, I planned the Prologue out in my head. You see, the character Larik decides that being the Chosen One is really awful. And in order to atone for many of his sins, he passes on his consciousness unto his successor right before he is killed.

 I will be passed unto his or her consciousness, to never let this person cross the line such as I did. I will safeguard this person’s abilities until I see that this person – the wielder of my power – will be turned away from evil, and from corruption.

Direct quotation from the Prologue of my book. That’s Larik’s final journal entry before he is killed. A lot of people have asked me why I made him seem so strict in his journal, even though he’s actually a sarcastic guy that likes to play mind games on Ambrose. It gives me great satisfaction not to reveal to them the reason why. ( Hehe.)

Anyways, as I thought of the last line, I thought: “Hmm. What about Dangers of Evil and Corruption? Sounds like… No… What about the Line? Sounds like a Richard Bachman novel… Line of Corruption. Doesn’t sound too good, but I’ll just make it the temporary title.”

Well, needless to say, I got attached to that title. But yes, that’s how I came up with the Line of Corruption. How I came up with Radio Silence is most likely a lot simpler. The thing about Radio Silence is that people are getting possessed. The only way the sheriff knows they’re possessed (aside from the whole attempted murder thing) is that stereos or radios suddenly begin to play a song.

So, a lot of the beginning is spent praying for the radio to be silent. Unfortunately for the main character, I’m not so merciful as to leave it completely silent. (insert evil laugh here)

Hence, Radio Silence came to be. I like it because it’s ironic, and there’s actually a line in the story where Gordon says it. (Although, it’s not really said in the same order. You’ll see.)

How do you guys and gals feel about titles? Can you start a story without them? If you can, do you obsessively try to come up with a new title every waking second? Tell me about it in the comments. Hope you like, follow, and comment. Hopefully, all three. Thanks for reading.

~J.A. Romano

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    I tend to start with a title.

    “Catskinner’s Book” actually started out as “Catkiller’s Book”. The idea of “So-and-so’s Book” was a reference to “Prospero’s Book” and also the “Doomsday Book”–I like the associations of a book with hidden arts and magic. The entity inside my main character, as I said, was originally called “Catkiller” because obsessive killers usually start in childhood by killing small animals. I later changed his name to Catskinner as a reference to “more than one way to skin a cat”–it made him sound more interesting and less bleakly horrible to my ears.

    My next novel, “Cannibal Hearts” was actually the name of a story I wrote a long time ago about a love triangle–bad story (it ended with the trio becoming a stable polyamorous relationship pretty much out of the blue) but I loved the title. So I kept it in the back of my mind, and when it was time to start my next novel it just seemed to fit. Atypical relationships are a big part of the overall theme of this book, and the fact that people sometimes do terrible things for love.

    My third, which I have semi-plotted in my head, is going to be called “The Worms Of Heaven”, which is from a quote by Charles Fort and fits the image that I have of the Outsiders in my head–an invasion of alien parasites, basically.

    My character names are references from all kinds of things, mostly really obscure. Cobb Russwin, for example, is named after Corbin-Russwin, which is a manufacturer of locks and builder’s hardware. I wanted a strong name for the character, and I’ve always been favorable impressed by the hardware line.

    James is called James rather than Jim because of “James And The Giant Peach”. Godiva is named after the brand of chocolate. Agony Delapour got her last name from a Lovecraft story called “The Rats In The Walls”, I’m not sure how I came up with Agony as a first name, but once I did I knew it was perfect.

    Alice Mason was named from “Alice In Wonderland” with the hermetic/magical associations of “Mason”. I wanted a name that suggested someone who was both a stranger in a strange land and also an initiate into its mysteries.

    Keith Morgan started with the last name because of J. P. Morgan (who was a very strange man in a lot of ways) and I wanted to soften it, and for some reason Keith sounded particularly geeky.

    So, here’s a snapshot of my naming process, for what it’s worth.

    • J.A. Romano says:

      That’s really interesting, I have to say. I like the title Catskinner’s Book and Cannibal Hearts, so I guess you did a great job with that. : ) I normally put together a random assortment of letters based on the character’s personality. I have a character that’s old and very cryptic, and he’s from a Middle Eastern-like country, so I thought: “Ra’s very Middle Eastern-like… And he is very cool… Rakhul?”

      It was really fun to hear about how another writer came up with his titles and names. Interestingly enough, Godiva is a rather famous brand of chocolate where I live.

  2. C.Hill says:

    Names, I have no problem with. I’m writing in a Victorian-esque world, so the names need to sound somewhat English and familiar. And I laughed at ‘The Believer” thing. One of my religious figures is named ‘The Wanderer.’ Ironic.

    Titles, on the other hand, are a killer for me. I always change mine at least every few months. It was ‘A Man of Sorrow,’ or ‘Sorrow’s Steel,’ then changed to ‘The Cold Steel.’ Now I’m contemplating ‘The Cold Silence,’ after death and all. Don’t know.

    And another thing that was brought from the innards of my mind. (Run away now.) People ask me why I called my religious text ‘The Book of Days.’ “Is it because of the End of Days?” they ask. “Nah, it was actually from a book me and my friends picked up out of the library one day titled ‘The Book of Days.’ Basically a journal detailing every days and the activities of said day. We made humor from it, and the game has stuck ever since.

    And there’s something else important to it I can’t remember…

    Funny how names and titles can have weird meanings. 🙂

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Really? I wonder what would happen if our two figures end up meeting. Yours would wander away, while mine begins to believe that he’s not a very attentive guy. xD

      I once tried implementing the philosophy that a title doesn’t matter until you actually finish the book, but I really failed at that. I just kept thinking about the UNTITLED at the top of the document. If it helps, I like all of those titles. Much better than the title of my first book, the Guardian. ( I eventually changed it to Xenon Bane, since it was the craze of how to title YA books around that time, plus I found over six books with the same name.)

  3. I’m not an author, only a blogger, but when I am doing a non-author or non- book post, I write the post first, then try to think of a Title for it that will catch the eye and pique the curiosity 🙂

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Cool. : ) I’d do the same, but like I said, I can’t concentrate with the whole Untitled thing hovering above what I’m writing. Sorry it took me so long to reply. Thanks for telling me about your process. Really think learning how other people title stuff is great.

  4. dotdotquote says:

    I write the book first, then worry about the title, although I’ve honed my own to such a point now, I could name it on the last iteration.

    “King of’s” are common enough, but it doesn’t bother me too much. Both the title and the story are inexorably linked. I’m interested in the semantics of symbols, if you’re curious, and sparrows have long been used in history (Shakespeare for example) to represent the common, the drab and the average.

    As for names, I discovered too late that the name for my character relates to some Warhammer saying (I googled it once), but I’m not changing it. I’ve tried alternate spellings and everything else just looks odd.

  5. I like your explanation of ‘Line of Corruption’. Makes me want to read it.

    I’ve changed all my titles multiple times from their inception. The books just seemed to grow out of the old names and reach toward new ones that were more appropriate to the text — and as a bonus, those new ones have been more unique. I think the title is really one of the last things you should worry about; it’s not necessary to have a solid one before you start, and sometimes having a title you’re too attached to but which doesn’t fit the story can actually harm you.

    As for character/place names, I’ve always been good at making stuff up. Just recently though, since I’ve been codifying more of my world for internal consistency, I’ve created a ‘naming conventions’ file for myself, so I know which kingdoms use which syllable-combinations, which won’t use certain letters, what male and female suffixes are used in what places, et cetera. I also reverse-derived some of my names into the made-up language I’ve created for the world, so that they have meaning beyond their superficial sound, and I derive a lot of new characters’ names from that language.

    I don’t change character names all that much. Sometimes the spelling. They are firmly attached to the characters, as far as I’m concerned, though sometimes I manage to tell myself it’s a pseudonym and thus accept a new name. I also pick names by color sometimes: I have mild synaesthesia and see letters in color, and some colors work for some characters but not for others.

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Thanks, I was worried it’d sound too ridiculous. xD

      Since finishing the book, I haven’t actually changed any of their names, but in my other stories, I’ve changed the character names too many times to count. In the first book I ever wrote, I called the main character Kendall.

      Then, when I reached the ending, I changed his name to Xenon Bane and also renamed the book to that. (It was originally called the Guardian.) Difference is that I wasn’t really attached to the book itself. I can’t imagine doing that for Line of Corruption, because I’ve referred to it as LoC/Line of Corruption in front of people so many times.

      I’m glad that I kind of learned how to name characters properly halfway through LoC, so I didn’t have to rename them as often as I used to.

      That was when it actually hit me that I’d improved and learned so much throughout my experience writing LoC. It made all the long nights worth it. ;D

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