In less than 100 days I will become someone new (well, sort of). I’ll be getting married.
I’ve mentioned my upcoming nuptials a couple of times on my blog over the past several months. But, now that we’re into the double-digit countdown, it’s really starting to feel real!
How does getting married make me a new person? Well, because I’ll be changing my name. I know there are lots of politics and strong opinions on this topic, and I’m in no way wanting to spark a debate. It is the 21st century. If you choose to change your name when you get married, good for you! If you don’t, that’s just fine too! But, I bring it up because I’ve been thinking about my name a lot lately and that, in turn, makes me think about naming characters.
My partner absolutely does NOT expect me to change my name. But, as a child, I always thought I would change my name when I get married (probably because my mom did) and I loved the idea of having a “new identity.” There is/was nothing wrong with my given name. Honestly, I feel like I got off lucky. My parents may have chosen one of the most popular first names from the 1980’s when I was born, but at least they didn’t name me something that society would deem bizarre or too different. I got teased enough as a child, a name that others found strange would have been too much to handle. I do like unique names for other people though. I find them beautiful.
Fast-forward several years and a couple of decades later and fewer women are changing their names when they marry. I understand their reasons. They’ve been one person their whole lives and why should they change now? This makes sense to me. But, maybe because I am a writer and I have created so many people in my imagination, that having the opportunity to change myself is a bit exciting. I finally sat down and wrote out my new name a couple of weeks ago just to try it on for size. It was fun and sort of brought me to that space of being in middle school and writing out your name with the last name of your crush. Did you guys ever do that? I don’t remember doing it. But, I could reasonably see how middle schoolers would be giddy about that sort of thing.
Even though I’ll be changing my name in the near future, I’ll continue to publish with Kincaid as my last name for practical reasons and because that’s my identity as a writer. This brings up another aspect of names. Do you publish as yourself or do you have a pen name? I personally never wanted a pen name because I wanted anyone and everyone to know that it was me writing and publishing books (hah!). Perhaps that’s my narcissistic nature coming through, but, damn it, I wanted my name on those books!
So, how does this relate to writing and character building? Names are important. It’s the first thing we share with someone when we meet them. Names carry so much weight and meaning. Before the internet, there were baby name books. With the coming of the internet, we have dozens of baby name website offering to help you find the perfect name for the tiny human that will one day be yours. Have you ever played with Baby Name Genie? It’s also a fun resource when for when you’re trying to come up with a name for a character.
Secondly (and back to changing your name), I think the idea of changing one’s name is another way to explore your characters. Do you have a character who is married or divorced? Did they change their name when they got married or when their marriage ended? Why or why not? Contemplating this small thing can give you some great insight into your characters and aid you in fleshing them out for the reader.
Beyond this, how other characters view the character who has changed their name says a lot of about the culture or environment in which your characters live. It suggests the open- or closed-mindedness of their society. It reveals how modern or traditional your characters are and it sets up some assumptions or expectations that your readers will have based on the information that you give them through your characters thoughts, feelings and actions regarding this topic.
I’ve written before about the importance of naming characters and names in general, as well as nicknames. Please check out these posts. Also, I’d love to hear about your experience with your name or your characters’ names. As for me, when I change my name, I’ll be a walking poem. That’s because my last name and my first name will rhyme! My family thinks this is absolutely hilarious 🙂