Posted by: Trisha Leigh | August 25, 2010

“Hi, My Name is Ted Bundy,” and Other Naming Disasters

Imagine you’ve given birth to a lovely, perfect, healthy baby boy. You and your significant other have agonized over what to call the little bundle of joy for months, maybe years if you’re the girl in this scenario. As soon as you look in his face, you know it’s the right name. It fits him. In the space of a few hours, it becomes him.

Then imagine someone comes to your house in six months and says you’d better change it.

They even have a good reason; you agree with them that it would be best to change his name. Maybe you call him Teddy and your last name is Bundy and it’s 1978. Perhaps you’re the Vicks and you fancy the name Michael. Even then – how hard would it be?

I’ll tell you. Hard. HARD.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I knew having my main character’s name and my love interest’s name begin with the same letter wasn’t going to fly. Her name is Althea, and it’s her name. Not changing.

His name presented a challenge because it had to fit rigid parameters. It needed to be French in origin but not look or sound French if you speak English. It’s more difficult than you might think. Before I chose the character’s original name (which obviously began with A…I’m not going to type it because I’m eradicating it from my mind), I spent hours combing French baby names on websites.

When I found an agent who loved my work I did several things. Listened to the message. Freaked out. Called my friend Denise. Texted  a writer friend and said, “I don’t know what to do!”

“Call her back!” he text-shouted.

When I could breathe again after hearing the words “I’m formally offering to represent you, by the way,” we discussed my story. A few weeks later, I got her suggestions for revisions. I knew I had to change his name.

I started looking again. I came up with two options. 1. Pacey 2. Emery

Others made the short list but those were the two I could see fitting this living, fully-formed, functional character.

I worried Pacey was an issue because of the character on Dawson’s Creek which, as is evidenced by the astounding response to my last blog, is very much alive and beloved by a generation of television viewers. I also wonder if perhaps Joshua Jackson will love me forever if I create another character named Pacey so that people will stop calling him Pacey and call him Joshua instead.

But I digress.

I began an informal poll of my target audience – 12-20 year-olds. None of them had ever heard the name Pacey. In fact, none of them had ever heard of Dawson’s Creek. I felt older than dirt. I might have cried. I got the exact same response in a room full of people over the age of 35.

A friend advised me that the only person he knew named Emery weighed 300lbs, wore pit-stained t-shirts, and worked in a gun shop. That did it.

Well, that and my agent agreeing it was safe to use the name Pacey. Beta readers who are part of the WB Generation call the name and the character it references for them “iconic.” I guess I’ve been convinced that to be iconic you have to appeal to a larger section of the population. I guess.

Althea and Pacey. Pacey and Althea.

I’m getting there. Maybe by the time my book is in print and I’ve read and revised it a million more times his name will actually BE Pacey, instead of…that name he was before.

Writers, thoughts? Have you had to do this? How long did it take you to adjust?

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Responses

  1. Love the Pacey.

    Names are hard! I’m feeling this way about one of my villains and know I’m going to have to change it when it’s all said and done. It isn’t evil enough.

    But I know what you mean about knowing, KNOWING someone’s name. It fits and you feel it in your bones. Other baddie: Dorian. Dorian = evil to me.

    SQUEEZES

    • Dorian feels evil to me too. Slimy. Ick.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence on Pacey!

  2. I mourned over the loss of PACEY’S old name, but Pacey is growing on me. I still say it’s like suddenly renaming on of your kids. It’s not impossible, but it takes some time getting used to the idea.

    • It’s not impossible. He’s kind of straddling the name line now. A few hundred more read throughs and I’ll think “what was his name the first time?” *fingers crossed*

  3. I haaaate changing character names. The names just sort of happen for me, and then I get really stuck on them. “I can’t change X’s name… it’s X… I don’t.. understand…”

    Also, my (older) BF started singing the Dawson’s Creek theme song in the car the other day and I was like, “wtf is that.” And he was like, “well now I feel old.”

    Also I LOVE the name Dorian haha. Sorry Harley May!

    • Lucky for me I didn’t feel that way about his name, like it was the only name he could have. I don’t know that I could have changed the MC’s name.

      Thanks for the comment. I’ll let you and Harley duke it out over Dorian 😉

      Oh, and not knowing the Dawson’s song? Makes me feel old too.

  4. Ack. I’ve never had to change a major character’s name (yet). I think I’d have a very difficult time doing it.

    I did change a minor character’s name once, and darned if she didn’t develop a whole new personality. I could not for the life of me picture her the same way after the name change. Weird.

    • Linda, that is too funny. I’m glad Pacey stayed the same affable dude under pressure he always was. See, I called him the right name. It must be growing on me!

  5. I like Pacey.

    In the novel I’m working on right now, I’m totally in love with my MC’s name. I really can’t imagine that not being her name.

    Glad you found a name you’re happy with!

    • Well, I didn’t have much choice. I’m glad Pacey works for you, because I don’t know if I could change his name again. Slowly but surely, he’s growing into it.

  6. I had to change the name of a secondary character after the book was finished and it wasn’t really a problem for me, but I haven’t yet had to change the name of an MC. I FEAR that if I ever get my Thairon book out into the world, his name is going to have to be changed– and when that day comes, I might cry a little bit. Thairon has always, always, just been Thairon, but the name is totally bizarre, and I’m not sure that saying it’s a bastardization of Thorin is going to do me any favors either. :-/

    But I will cross that bridge if/when I come to it!

    And man, I can’t see the name Pacey without hearing the Dawson’s Creek theme in my head. ALSO, did you see that pacey-con video from comic-con where they wouldn’t let him in? I wish I still had the link. Hilarious! But if your character is supposed to be a charming love interest? TOTALLY works!

    • He IS a charming love interest but he looks nothing like the handsome-in-his-own-right Joshua Jackson. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing.

      I guess we just have to remember that they’re not children. They’re our characters and they have to be who we tell them to be SO THERE.

      I like Thairon and I don’t know what’s so weird about it. Perhaps you’ll luck out 🙂

  7. I’m laughing cause yes, I had to do this with a main love interest too. His name looked fine in print, but about 3/4 of the way into the book I said it to my husband and it sounded so bad! Now he has a badass name and I can’t even remember the other, but it took awh… oh, I just remembered it. Yup, sounds just as weird.

    Pacey, hmmm. Pacey. (You know we both have Althea’s, right? Mine’s not my MC, though.)

    • So funny that we both have that name…it’s certainly not common. I’m glad to hear that you changed a name and it turned out for the best. Fingers crossed!

      I wonder…what’s the badass name?

      • lol I feel like part of the in-crowd, I have an Althea too. not the MC. she dies. (there, now you can skip that chapter in my book.)

        • That’s so weird, too, because its not a common name at all!

  8. Soren, but now I look at it, maybe it’s not badass. Maybe it’s just that I know him now. I really really love him. Maybe someday you’ll understand why. 😉

    • Ooooh, I like it. Kind of reminds me of an icky, oozing sore. I HOPE I get to some day. You know I love to read (hint hint).

  9. I know this is an old post, but I’m still playing catch up. I like reading your works because you play by the rules, and therefore have a much larger chance at success than I.
    Names are fantastic, and I love hearing about Authors that put a lot of time and effort into their naming. When characters have iconic names, they rise above the typical. Even authors such as Crichton, Ludlum, Cussler, and Clancy very specifically choose realistic names to convey a sense of belief to their often terrifying stories.
    As I writer, I find naming my characters tedious but often rewarding work. All the names have significant meaning to the character of the individual. The double-double crosser is Jacob, the warrior is Damien, the savior is Nadia. What’s even more amazing is when the name fits the character even before the character is fully developed or the history of the name fully researched.
    I believe there is something mystical about names; people, and literary characters, tend to embody their label.

  10. Great name. I’m old enough to remember Dawson’s Creek, but that’s okay. There had to be another Pacey sometime!

    I had a similar issue, though, in renaming a character who was Jacob. Sigh.


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