A Rose is a Rose…or Maybe Not

Red rose (image via http://www.freestockphotos.biz)

I’ve got a question — Does it matter to you what an author’s name is?

I mean, does Mary carry more clout than Ashley? Does Cheyenne sound younger than Dianne? And does it matter?

The reason I ask is that my first name appears on the nation’s Top 100 Baby Name Lists from the 1940s through the 1970s.

That’s a l-o-n-g time for a name to be popular.

And while I’ve written countless news stories under my name, I sometimes wonder if “Debbie” sounds writerly enough.

Perhaps because there were so many of us Debbies in my high school class, I’ve come to think of my name as a montage of the girls I once knew. Some were cheerleaders; some were “popular”; some were musicians; some were funny.

None were writers — except me, of course. And I was more of a closet writer, insecure about my talent and afraid to be considered “weird.”

High school is like that. We try so hard to fit in, yet when the annual yearbook-signing ritual arrived, we Debbies donned new personas in an attempt to stand out. We became Debby, or Debi, or Debee, or Debra.

Some even used their middle names, though Ann in one form or another is just about as popular as Debbie is.

Maybe it’s just a regional thing. After all, I hardly knew any Debbies in college, and I haven’t come across a new Debbie in ages.

We all know baby names are cyclical. Old-time names like Ava and Ella and Abigail are once again popular with new parents, while names like Lisa and Wendy and Laurie can’t be found anywhere.

Does a name date an author in an agent’s mind? Should it?

All the writing books and magazines I’ve read stress the importance of getting characters’ names right. You don’t want to put an Ariel, for instance, in the 1950s, or a Chrystal in the 1880s. It might have happened, but if so, it was a rarity, and you don’t want to flag your ignorance in front of agents.

But what about the author’s name? Does a Chloe sound too young to pen a serious novel? Does Jane sound too old to be alive for the long haul?

Maybe I’m stressing for nothing. Maybe nobody cares but me.

And maybe I could end the whole shebang by choosing a pen-name for myself, much the way I’d do for my characters.

What do you think? Do you judge a writer by his name? Do you even care?

A Rose by any other name…

This past Fall Break, I was puttering around the kitchen while My Favorite Domer was watching one of the sports channels on TV.

All of a sudden, I heard the announcer speak a familiar name. Whirling around, I declared, “Hey, that guy’s my hero!”

MFD turned a puzzled face toward me and asked, “Who? That guy?”

“Yes!” I screamed, repeating the man’s name.

“You’re kidding,” MFD said. “How do you know him?”

“I don’t know him,” I said. “I know his name. It’s the same as the name of my hero, the one in my book.”

For those who don’t know, I’ve been working on a novel for the past few years. I’ve basically finished the writing portion; now I’m in the editing/polishing stage and soon will be ready to pitch it to prospective agents (say a prayer, okay?)

“You used the name of a real guy for your book?” MFD asked in a rather horrified tone. “That was dumb, Mom. You should’ve Googled him first.”

Duh! I guess I should have.

But who would have thought the name I’ve been “living with” for this long would turn up on a real person?

In all fairness, my hero isn’t an athlete (an athlete who’s managed to get himself in a bit of trouble with the law, to boot), but he hails from the same U.S. state, and that’s just too much of a coincidence for my comfort.

So I decided to re-name my hero. It’s easier to find another acceptable name than to face possible legal consequences.

But doggone it, those few seconds put me in a tailspin. With as many people as there are on the planet today, it’s not easy finding a good name that hasn’t already been taken, and I was rather fond of the one I’d chosen!

So I did a bit of research into what other writers do when naming their characters. They:

  • Browse telephone directories
  • Buy character naming books
  • Use online random name generators
  • Thumb through baby naming books
  • “Steal” names from spam e-mail
  • Traipse through cemeteries
  • and even “borrow” names from their friends and families

Interesting, huh?

Naming characters isn’t easy. You’ve got to find a name that fits the type of fiction you’re writing as well as the period and place it’s set in; you’ve also got to “live” with the name for a while and see if the character accepts it.

Does anybody else have other “foolproof” naming resources? I’d sure welcome them!