A Rose by Any Other Name

(Please don't mind the overused, cliché title.)

One of the most annoying and frustrating things for me to deal with in writing is naming things.

Naming the work. Naming the chapter. Naming the place. Naming the character. Naming this, naming that, yadda, yadda, yadda.

While naming the work/chapter has a weight to it that drives my anxiety into overdrive (Is it too cliché? Is it attention-grabbing? Does it make sense?), places and characters are a whole different world of frustrating that I must deal with.

Maybe it's because of growing up with an unusually-spelled common name where I have paranoia with names in general. I always ask a person how their name is spelled, even if it's extremely common like Alex or Bob because you never know. Maybe it's because I lack any real creativity with naming places that makes them sound like they could be real. Maybe it's because I overthink the meanings behind names and I want to apply those "hidden meanings" in my character's names that fit their personality.

And then I totally scrap that idea out the window when I continue writing out that character and they don't turn out to fit that meaning, or it has nothing to do with their character at all and choosing the name was an effort I didn't need to put out in the first place.

Take "Hannah Lewis," the name of my main character for one of my NaNoWriMo projects a few years ago, for example. I initially intended her to be this sweet, kind, gentle person. "Hannah" means "favor" or "grace," and I thought, "Hey, perfect!" Also, it was a rather common name, and unassuming.

But then I wrote her out. Followed her along her journey as she tries to cope with the fact that she's psychic but the only future she could see was how a person will die and how she chooses to go about this knowledge.

Turns out Hannah's got no grace for anyone. Whoops.

Then there was this one completely-failed project where I used animal themes and stuff with my characters. Maya, because that's what a sparrow is called in the Philippines. Hirondelle, because that's what a swallow is called in France. Hawk and Falcon, because that's what they're called in English.

You can guess how the rest of my character's names went. Ugh, why in the world did I think that using the Latin genus and species would be good names for characters, I'll never know.

That's when I learned my lesson that names for characters and places were really important. They were going to pop up over and over and over again in the story. If I hate writing the name, chances are the reader's going to hate reading the name.

Now, in more recent writings (namely for creative writing class), names are coming easier for me. I loved when the name "Rhoda" just popped into my head for a talking car. Because of course I was going to give her a pun as a name! It was a lighthearted story, too, so I didn't need to be so serious with the naming.

And then, for my fantasy adventure/quest/narrative thing, naming took on a different light. The place is fictional. The language is fictional. That meant that naming conventions didn't have to follow what the real world follows. Or commonly follows, since my mother wanted my experience at every Starbucks to be a hilarious case of misunderstanding.

Or was it my father who named me? Eh, the jury is still out on that one since they both claim responsibility for my "clever" name. I'm leaning towards my mother though. She seems more of the type than my father, that's for sure.

So I used my made-up language as a basis for sounds in my narrative. Because the world is made up, might as well drive that point home with a language that's made up, too, right?

But then I noticed something.

Something... peculiar.

Ejas Avamir. Reith Azunas (who is yet to be introduced to you all). Alir Cael.

My car story leaked it's pun into my long-winded adventure story that's trying to keep itself serious.

I gave my main characters freaking PLANT PUNS as names.

Sage (spelled backwards, but with a "j")? Wreath!? Kale!?

Seriously Jodee?

What made it worse was that the story's narrator is a horticulturist. His knowledge and trade revolves around plants.

It completely escaped my notice until I was working on it yesterday, wondering how I would pronounce Ejas's name (likely closer to the English "y," if one were to remain consistent with my made-up language). I was saying the possible pronunciations out loud when that little switch flipped in my head that alarms me of a possible pun in the works. It's often a false-positive, so I ignored it.

Then I went on to Reith's name. I recalled the little flipping of the switch.

I went on to Alir's name, hoping it wasn't true.

Oh, for the love of all that's good in the world, never let me be the one to name a child. I can't handle that responsibility. The poor kid will likely have a pun as a name. It's the only skill I've got, it seems.

And so I continue my ever-continuing struggle with naming things.

Here I was, so happy their names came to me easily, like Rhoda's did.

I knew I should have been more suspicious.

To everyone out there that likes to come up with titles and names: you amaze me. Your magic eludes me and I can't ever hope to master the arcane knowledge you possess.

I probably need to hang around my brother less. He creates puns as easily as he breathes air.


  1. I get hung up on names a lot too... Though, I don't think I've experienced your level of stress, since I don't usually create entirely new worlds (at least not lately).

    I did go back and forth on my strangely named character "Joie" -- which I eventually just changed to "Joey" and/or "Jo-Jo." The change actually started thank to some of your feedback, Jodee. You helped me realize that people would have no idea how to pronounce the name unless I wrote "It's like Joey but spelled differently."


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