What’s in a name? Well, a lot. I’ve been wrestling with an idea for a new mystery series–and I do mean wrestling. So far it’s gone through at least two major overhauls, but I think I’m finally getting it where I want it… except for one thing. The hero’s name. I keep changing it because it doesn’t feel right. It’s like an itchy sweater. It looks okay, but I know I won’t be able to live with it forever.
First, my hero was “Sean.” Then he was “Gabe.” Now he’s “Matt.” I think he’s going to stay “Matt.” So far that name seems like a good fit. But what’s the big deal? you’re probably saying. One name’s as good as another, right? Just pick one and start writing.
Well, not so easy. If the name doesn’t feel right, it becomes a speed bump in the writing process. It slows me down and makes me think about it every time I see it. I become like the guy who bought a metallic orange car because the price was right. Every time he looks at it, he feels a ping of regret.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. The great Elmore Leonard couldn’t start a new book until he’d named his characters, and the names had to feel right. Suppose he had gone with “Lester Godwin” instead of “Raylan Givens.” Dollars to doughnuts, it wouldn’t have been the same character. And I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t have been as good.
So here I am playing the name game, thumbing through Name Your Baby books and wishing I still had a paper telephone directory. (Strolling through cemeteries is another method I’ve used. I’ve gotten some good ideas scanning headstones. Except in my Philadelphia neighborhood, the closest cemetery has more “Jedidiahs” than “Johns” and I don’t write historicals.) But let’s hope “Matt” sticks. I want to get moving on this book. Fingers crossed, I’ll keep him around for a long time. Like a good sweater.