I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.
Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.
I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.
And it’s working.
Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.
He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).
What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?