Each of us possesses something unique and powerful from the day we’re born. It is bestowed upon us, sometimes with more meaning than others, but after that initial gifting, it is ours to use as we will.
If you read the title of this entry, you know I’m talking about your name.
Have you ever stopped to think about the power in a name? Some parents take a lot of care to choose a name for their child that holds a lot of meaning or sentimentality. Others choose one that is fun to say or that sounds pretty. Or they use their child to pay homage to their favorite fruit.
No matter how our names come to us, we are the ones stuck with them forever. (Yes, I realize you can change your name, but that’s a whole different blog entry.) Our names are our first step to finding our identity, and I truly believe they have an impact on how our personalities develop. I used to wish that I had a name like Jessica or Melissa, because Rena (or Renata) was too hard for people to pronounce, too hard to spell (it is spelled like it sounds but boy do people struggle), too unique. I stood out when I wanted to blend in.
However, now I am so grateful for such a unique, special name. (I was named for my grandmother, who died when I was 8.) I believe having a unique name helped to shape me into the special snowflake I am today.
When other people use your name, there is power in that as well. I remember being younger, and one particular instance where a guy I found attractive said, “Hi, Rena!” as we passed on the sidewalk. Just that use of my NAME meant so much more than the “Sup?” of other guys. When someone uses your name, it tells you that YOU MATTER.
It’s not always a good thing when people use your name. When you were in trouble as a kid, you knew how serious it was by how much of your name your parents used. People use names to be condescending or sarcastic. It’s interesting to interpret how your name tastes on other people’s lips.
So what does this have to do with writing?
Names MATTER. When you give a character a name, you give them a life, a purpose. You’re basically saying PAY ATTENTION HERE.
My characters were the ones who taught me this very important lesson. It was three years or so ago, and I was writing my YA sci-fi novel, ABOVE EDEN (currently available on my hard drive only). I needed someone to come in and fulfill a very specific purpose, so I created a character. He was supposed to pop in, do his duty, and fade into the background once again.
As soon as I gave him a name, he took on a life of his own. Pretty soon, he was part of all sorts of shenanigans. He had his own agenda and motivations, and I was just as shocked as anyone. (He was super sneaky. Lil scamp.)
I think this is why it’s so hard for us to consider changing character names after we’ve gotten to know our characters by the moniker we give them originally. Or why sometimes a name just isn’t working for us even after we’ve used it for most of the MS.
Words matter. Names matter. Choose carefully 🙂