Story of What's Her Name
I have no problem coming up with titles. Sometimes the perfect title springs into my head before I've even written the story. One example is Water Dolls, the novella I revised first as Secret Father, then as Rad's Kiss, and finally as my thriller Talion. The titles were the easy part.
Names are another matter. I struggle to think of the right ones for my characters. I want names that reflect their personalities, and I want my protagonist's name to be memorable without being overly strange. Karen Marie Moning found the perfect balance with the protagonist of her Fever series, MacKayla Lane, which shortens nicely to Mac. I can’t imagine Mac having any other name.
The protagonist of Talion began her existence as Luanda Jakes. I began shortening her name to Lu in the dialogue. The writing felt more comfortable that way, and I eventually let go of Luanda altogether.
I settled on the name of Lu's new friend Lisa early in the creative process. I wanted something that began with the same letter as Lu's, breaking the rule that character names should be conspicuously different to avoid confusing readers. Beginning both names with L creates a twinning effect. Despite their dissimilarity and the awkwardness between them, Lu and Lisa have a kinship. Each yearns for her true father. Lisa knows her biological father is a jerk, but being abandoned and ignored by him will always hurt. Lu has nothing but contempt for Duane, her supposed biological father, and when Talion reveals that her real father is someone else, she embraces the revelation with fierce joy.
I had a terrible time with the name of the protagonist in Darkroom, the novel I'm writing now. A girl from the rural Midwest, she works as assistant curator in a fictional museum in Boulder, Colorado. I came up with a name her parents might have chosen: Kelly. She went through the first draft as Kelly Durrell. But during revision, I started second-guessing my decision. Kelly is such an ordinary name, perfect for a nice girl and altogether forgettable. I thought about calling her Robyn with a Y. Or Mal, short for Mallory, with its undertones of evil as in maleficent or malediction. After all, she smoked pot in high school and still has a rocky relationship with her mother. But neither Robyn nor Mal felt altogether right.
Finally, I brought the problem to my writing group, explaining why I wanted to change the protagonist’s name and offering my alternatives. “No, no,” they said unanimously. “We like Kelly. We think of her as Kelly. That’s her name, and you shouldn’t change it.” For them, my protagonist already lives within the fictional world I’ve created, and renaming her would mess with that reality. So she remains Kelly, stuck with an undistinguished name.
But then, how many people have names they love? How many people would rename themselves if they could do it without complications, if the discarded name could magically disappear from the memory of everyone who knows them? Given the choice, I wouldn’t go another day as Mary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Maddox grew up in Utah and California. A graduate of Knox College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she now teaches at Eastern Illinois University. She lives in Charleston, Illinois with her husband, film scholar Joe Heumann. Her interests include dressage and tournament Scrabble. Mary’s short stories have appeared in a number of magazines including Farmer's Market, Yellow Silk, and The Scream Online. Her writing has been honored with awards from the Illinois Arts Council. Talion, her debut novel, is available at Barnes and Noble online and at Amazon.com as a trade paperback and as a Kindle book. You can visit her at her Web site www.marymaddox.com, read her blog at http://blog.marymaddox.com and follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Dreambeast7.
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