The Name Game
I can’t keep names straight to save my life. Those belonging to real people or the imaginary folks running around in my rough drafts.
Someone comes up to me and introduces themselves or a friend. I’ve lost their name in 3.2 seconds. And it’s not that I don’t care. I just can’t seem to hold onto that bit of information until I’m exposed to it more than once. Until I experience a memory or an event with that person.
But after a brief encounter? Man, don’t quiz me on it.
And writing short stories and secondary characters in larger works is even more of a challenge. Because I’ve never shaken these folks’ hands or had lunch with them (although I do have conversations with them in my head while having lunch with real people when the topic drifts to weather and mowing grass).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to scroll backward through the draft for a name of a character so I could complete a scene or a bit of dialog.
I’ve taken to writing down every name and a little reminder of who they are in the story on a legal pad next to my laptop.
But it doesn’t end there.
I also do a “Search and Replace” on my word processor. Because as sure as I’ve said Angie is the waitress, that waitress is called Angela, Angelique, Annie or Angel. So I search for “An” and see where Little Miss Muse left name bombs for me to clean up.
Evidently, she’s not too interested in names, either. She’s only interested in the creativity of what this body did or where that body went. No names. Names aren’t all that important to the story, or so she believes. And she’s poisoning my real-life name-remembering ability.
Or maybe this comes from years of working at home and my clients are named with company numbers for anonymity. And because there are no faces to put with these clients. I’ve never met them in person, either, to my knowledge. It’s the nature of my work.
On really stressful days, sometimes I call my husband “Spencer.” That’s the dog. Was the dog. Spencer has been gone a while now. So that’s always awkward.
Sometimes I try looking around my office to grab a first name quickly off the spine of a book or a printout laying around. And in those moments, everyone’s name is James or Nora. And I’ve used those already.
I’m trying to avoid using the same name over and over, because if those short stories ever become a series, there’d be massive confusion for the readers.
And I’m massively confused enough already for all of us.
When I name a batch of characters for a new story, I tend to lean toward a few standards. Matt, Maranda, Marie. Not sure why. I know a Maranda, Matt and several Maries. But my characters are not based on these real-life people.
My cat’s middle name is Marie. And the three little rescue kittens I had to name so we could stop saying “This one and that one and the other.” So out came Minnie, Moose, and Mable. All “Ms”.
Don’t know what the “M” thing is about.
And dear hubs is concerned that I named the cats. I called him Spencer and said it would be okay.
To try to remedy this, I bought a baby name book, boasting over 25,000 names with the plan to cross off the names as I use them.
Problem is, 24,598 of the names are foreign, and my characters aren’t. Mataniah. Mudiwa. Mehtar.
See what I mean?
Sometimes I hear a name out in public or scrolling on the credits of something I watch. I think, “Wow, that’d be a great first name if paired with that last name. And it’s so cool I know I won’t forget it, so I don’t need to write it down.”
Then I forget it.
I’m also horrible at actor names, musicians, and street names. That last one causes some problems. Especially when the road name is a number. Or a direction word.
So if you see me wandering in the middle of nowhere because my GPS is out, I won’t know what road I’m on, and I probably won’t know which road I need.
I’ll gladly accept your help.
I’ll remember your kindness. My gratefulness will be genuine.
But I’ll likely struggle to remember your name.
And if I do remember it and it doesn’t start with “M,” it’ll be the name of my next character.