The Importance of Names
I have a new idea for a story that I'm kicking around in my head, but I don't want to start writing it yet. Not only do I have too many open projects at the moment, I also don't have the most important piece of information – I don't have the names of the characters.
Names are absolutely essential – get them wrong and you might as well not even bother with the book. As someone who went through life hating her nickname ("Beth" or "Bethy") and eventually abandoning her first name for her middle name, I understand the importance of names.
When my laptop died recently, the thing that upset me most was losing an idea file for a mystery. The one thing that I'd managed to do with the idea was work out all the names of all the characters. That was a major achievement and the thought of having to do it all over again depresses me.
Since we don't have any children, I've never had to undertake the nearly overwhelming responsibility of selecting the right name. All I've had to name are my characters and my pets. Funny enough, some of my characters tell me their names straight away and with others, I have to decide what they are. It's not all that different from our pets.
Since all of our pets over the years have been adopted as adults, they’ve always come pre-named. In Chicago, we adopted a cat named Freedom knowing that the name would have to go. Since he was a long-haired black-and-white Tuxedo cat, we ended up naming him Jeeves. It was perfect.
Similarly, Peter's dog came with the name Soldier. Yuck. Neither one of us could picture ourselves standing on the back porch shouting "Soldier! Come here, Soldier!" We discussed possible names during the 100-mile drive from the animal shelter up to Wheaton. Since they suspected he may have been a trucker's dog, I wanted to call him Mack, but Peter wasn't that keen on the idea.
We named him Badger, but then after a night of realising that Badger and "bad dog" were quite similar (and that we were going to be saying "bad dog" quite a lot), we decided he needed a different name. Peter had a rogue character named Caper in an online role-playing game. The name suited the rogue and Peter realised it would suit Caper as well.
Toby came to us with his name and we decided to keep it. It's a great name and what I like most about it is that it's nearly impossible to say without smiling. It's a happy, cheerful name that mostly suits our neurotic dog. I can't think of what else we would call him, so Toby stays.