For a writer, the answer is simple. Quite a lot.
A name means so much more than a label to indicate who’s talking.
The name part of the writing process takes me longer than the pre-planning. Okay, a bit misleading. I write a few beat sheets that may or may not have characters with names (discussed in the Story Process Posts). If they have stand-in names, I’m always testing the name against how their beat sheet demonstrates the subtext of the name.
Often, mostly, the name doesn’t stick. It changes to something more relevant to the character’s inner depths. It reflects their goal, or their actions, or their world views. Which means it needs a lot of thought before the fit is just right.
How does this work?
Let me use an example. The first Black story is Blackened Rose. Rose is the name of one character, and she started with it and ended with it, and the Black had his name from story conception to execution (not his, the story!).
But there was the secondary character. She had a name. Elena. But I kept forgetting it. Every time I worked on one of her scenes, I had to look up her name again. It didn’t fit. It meant shining light, and she wasn’t a beacon. More of a pit-bull, in my mind.
How could I find a name more fitting for the underlying character and her role in this story?
The name sites are a good start. Then famous people in history who may have carried the name chosen. Sometimes, this means the name gets tossed. Just in case. I don’t want the wrong resonance from the choice of name.
What name could this young woman carry that also gave her deep sub-textual meaning?
Twenty names later, I found one that felt almost right. I looked up the meaning in a few different places.
None felt quite right. Elena was an opening, because she’s a good person, but not a shining light. What is similar, but with more depth that aligns to the character’s need?
Eliana. God has answered. Something clicked. Not a big click, but a start. The character is searching for an answer, so this feels part-way appropriate. Not quite, though. Too much related to God.
Take out the ‘E’ my little pea-brain whispers. Take it out and see how it sounds.
So I played with it. And wrote a few scenes. And played with the name again.
Until it became Liana. The L at the open is a numerical three, which means family-oriented. The ‘i’ followed by ‘a’ indicates her strength and single-minded search for what is right. The ‘n’ is the five, which relates to how she works. Systematically, with purpose. And ending with a 1 character. A strong finish. A power ending.
The name fit the character.
She’s dedicated to finding the truth, and through thick and thin, she perseveres, always pushing forward, always with the end-goal to guide her actions.
The secondary character has her fit and proper name.
Liana. But does it suit the last name of her father (if she carries his name – decisions!). Her father. That’s what she chases through the story. His good name. Which means she has to carry it herself. It defines her.
What is his name?
Now, I don’t know how I came up with Benit, but when I found it and discovered the meaning, it fit. Would she be so driven if the name didn’t represent something so profound? Blessed. She had been blessed with her father. Grandin Benit, famous chef who loved his daughter, and promised to teach her the ways of an empath when she was ready. But he was taken away, and the purpose of her name took over her life. It drove her into this story.
Yes! Celebration time. She has the right name, the story can continue, and Liana Benit is a real person in my mind as I write her story.
Whew. Why did it take so long?
Because without the right name, the picture in my mind isn’t solid. I need that solidity. I need to hear her speak, see what and how she does things, how she plans and reacts. I need that before the story solidifies and becomes as real as a life remembered.
And there you have it — the naming process for a secondary character that took longer to find than all the pre-writing plans and beat-sheets.
And the questions I kept asking of her:
Who Are You?
What about you defines what your name will be?
Who are you, deep inside?
What haunts you?
One day, when I fully understand the concept, I may do a post about what subtext is, how to recognise it, use it, empower a story through the unseen, unspoken, unknown.
But if you already know, let’s share, yeah?