Friday, November 26, 2010

The Story of What's Her Name - Guest Blogger Mary Maddox & Giveaway

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.

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 as a trade paperback and as a Kindle book. You can visit her at her Web site, read her blog at and follow her on Twitter at


I have one copy of Talion to giveaway!! Answer the question above in red to enter.

Leave your email in your comment.

USA only

Contest ends December 7th.


  1. I always wanted to be a Tonia lol But, I wouldn't change my name because my parents are both gone now, and they chose that name for me - to me, it'd just be wrong to change it - so Jan (Janice) I guess it is for life :) sammiejanL40 at aol dot com

  2. I always wanted a diffrent name or a nickname but I am still Brenda. I did name my daughter with a new name back in 64 and it fits her perfectly. Her name is Starr and she has little gold flecks in her eyes that sparkle. She will always be my Starr.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  3. I think most people wish they had a different name other than their birth name. I never really cared for my name but never came up with a different one either.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  4. I don't know, but I won't change my name since it's given to me by my parents.

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

  5. I am okay with my name, so I would not change it.

  6. I wouldn't change my name since I am happy with it. Please enter me in contest.

  7. Hi! I like my name..I think it is pretty unique for where I live at. But I imagine a lot of people would love to change their name if they could. Thanks for the giveaway! :)

  8. Oooh this sounds great! I really want to read this one.

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  9. I actually like my name because its so unique and hardly used. I wouldn't have thought so when I was younger but now I do. :)

    lindsaydevine (at) bellsouth (dot) net

  10. I'd love to read The Story of What's Her Name :) I would jump at the chance to rename myself easily. I always loved the name Kirsten Alexis and was hoping for a daughter to use it on. *Thanks* for the giveaway!

  11. I like my father named me Kathy, not Katherine or Kathleen, just Kathy.
    The nuns at catholic school gave me a lot of guff and made me show them my birth certificate, even in HS. My Dad was always proud of the name he gave me because he said it suited me. I wouldn't change it for the world. Thanks.

    katklaw777 at yahoo dot com

    I like my father named me Kathy, not Katherine or Kathleen, just Kathy.
    The nuns at catholic school gave me a lot of guff and made me show them my birth certificate, even in HS. My Dad was always proud of the name he gave me because he said it suited me. I wouldn't change it for the world. Thanks.

  13. eh myname has special meaning but id change itto my othernameif it didnt hurt feelings in a nano second but im weird cause i d wanna change itbut then thinking on that changing it would mean proabbly more issues cause id hate the namei changed to eventually too

  14. I was named after my fathers' sister who died in childbirth so it's an honor to have her name.


  15. I've had times where I wish I had a different name but at the same time I can't imagine being called anything different. My dad was born with the name Wilbur and he changed it when he got older. (I don't blame him!) Now he's known to everyone as Russell, except for his brothers and sisters. They will always call him Wilbur!

  16. I think a lot of people might want another name, but would find it very weird if they did switch it. When I was in mexico I was given a mexican name, and realized that I missed my old name!

    aigcanada7 at hotmail (dot) com

  17. It's probably 50/50. I would!
    cjwallace43 at gmail dot com

  18. I don't know. I have always hated the name Debbie but my parents picked it for me so I would probably keep it. thanks

    dcf_beth at verizon dot net

  19. I think most people would *think* about changing their names, but not many would actually do it- personally, I wouldn't... I love my name (Jenna) and I also think that every bit of your life builds upon who you are, and your name is a piece of that
    papajm25 {AT} gmail {DOT} com

  20. I would not change my name it's part of me and my personality

    Thank you for hosting this giveaway

    schnitzomage {at} gmail {dot} com

  21. It's a very interesting idea, starting one's life over with new name and all...I think I would get too confused and forgetful about it. Too much trouble.
    jhbalvin at gmail dot com