Arrrgh! Starting from scratch.
Photo by Marie Coleman.
A few days ago I was excited to have found a new first name for my character, originally named Rosalie Brown. Two days ago I awoke with the realization that the new name I had chosen – Caroline – would not work.
Why? Because there is another major character named Charlene. And while the names Caroline and Charlene sound nothing alike, on the page they look very similar.
Slap my forehead
It was a true slap my head moment. Of course I should have realized immediately that the names were too much alike. And the reason I didn’t will sound ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t write fiction (and to most people who do). It’s because in the world of the novel, Caroline and Charlene never meet.
I had thought about all the people in Rosalie/Caroline’s life, and what their names were, and what nicknames they might have for her. But I forgot to think about the people who were not in her life, but were still in the book.
Let me re-re-introduce you
Luckily, I had 77 other names to consider, thanks to suggestions from people who read this blog and/or my Facebook page. So here is the new and (I devoutly hope) final name for the character once known as Rosalie:
As in Rosalind Russell. And Rosalind Ashford of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. And the scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose crucial role in understanding DNA was ignored and erased, while male colleagues Watson and Crick won Nobels for research they based on her discoveries.
So yes – Rosalind Brown. Say it with me and perhaps this name will stick.
Thanks to my friend Marvin Randolph for suggesting the name.
Last week I asked for help to rename Rosalie Brown, a major character in my novel who shared a first name with my publisher.
People chimed in with an amazing list of suggested first names – 78 in all. Although I only need one at the moment, I will certainly keep this treasure trove of names for future use.
How to name a fictional character
In the world of fiction writers, naming characters can be a challenge, so let me share how I selected a new name out of the 78 suggested ones.
My choice was guided in part by writing issues. The new name had to have the same number of syllables and the same stress pattern as Rosalie, so it would not disrupt the rhythm of the sentences in which the name appears. It also had to sound good with the names of other characters in the book, and be appropriate for the character’s age, gender, race, class, region of the country, etc.
The name had to feel right to me. It had to convey the same kind of strength I think the character has – and it couldn’t be a name I associate strongly with a real person in my life. Among the suggestions were the names of my grandmother, my best friend’s mother, several friends, and an ex-girlfriend. Can you see why this might be problematic?
Drum roll, please
Allow me to introduce Caroline Brown. (And let’s all take a moment of silence for the former Rosalie Brown.)
Caroline was suggested by two people, and I will thank them here as well as in the book’s acknowledgments: Marjorie Fine and Michael Alan Weinberg.
Margie and Michael, Caroline Brown thanks you. Rosalie Brown, not so much.
A new name blooms.
I started working on Her Own Vietnam more than a decade ago. The main character – the nurse who served in Vietnam – is named Della Brown. I named her sister, another major character, Rosalie Brown.
In a plot twist I could not have invented, my publisher is also named Rosalie. And she doesn’t think a major character should be named after her.
Darn it, she’s right.
Here’s where you come in
Can you help me come up with a new first name for my character? Her last name, of course, will remain Brown.
I will give you some parameters, and you can post your suggestions here. I am on a deadline, so all suggestions need to be posted by midnight (Eastern USA time) on Wednesday, April 23.
If I choose a name you suggested, I’ll thank you on the book’s acknowledgement page.
What you need to know about the character formerly known as Rosalie Brown
- She was born in 1953 to a middle class white family in upstate New York.
- Her other family members are older sister Della Brown; mother Ruth Brown; father Thomas (Tommy) Brown; partner Anne Isaacs.
- The name needs to be three syllables long. (Why? Because otherwise the rhythm will be messed up in every sentence that currently includes Rosalie.)
Let me know if you have any other questions.
For a novelist, naming a fictional character is personal, like naming a child. It’s possible I will come up with my own new name for her – and it’s certain that my decision will be based on subjective criteria (the name is pretty, it reminds me of my second cousin, it just feels right, etc.).
I will miss Rosalie Brown terribly. But I’m looking forward to seeing the names you suggest before midnight on Wednesday the 23rd of April.
Hope springs eternal.
That’s approximately how often I’ve thought about a character in Margaret Atwood’s 1989 novel, Cat’s Eye. It was not one of her best books, and the theme – that the friendship between girls often glints with cruelty – was actually repellent to me.
Yet I think about it almost every time I do the laundry.
Why? Because one of the characters in the novel was a fiber artist, and Atwood’s description of how she created works of beauty from the soft, multi-colored dryer lint that everyone else discards has never left me.
In a book I didn’t love and barely remember, Atwood created a character who springs to life whenever I do a routine and recurring chore. That’s powerful writing.
What about you? Do you have any characters who haunt you?