What’s in a Name?

choosing-a-nameMost of us writers spend way too much time doing this writing thing. Crafting a story. Developing characters. Stressing about arcs and structure. Every once in awhile, like in the shower, more fanciful thoughts will strike me. And lots of questions. Very important ones. What will I wear to my launch party? If I go on a multi-state book tour, who will feed my cats? And what name will appear on my book’s cover? This last one should be obvious, right? It’s not like I have multiple names.

Except I do. Sort of. I was born with a last name that I kept until I got married and took my husband’s last name. Some people still know me by my maiden name, unable to make the switch. My parents, present at my wedding, often forget what my married name is. Mail comes to me in both names. Why does this matter, you ask? It only decides where one’s book appears on a shelf. Do I want my book between Kaye Gibbons and William Gibson? Or would I rather it be between Tom Clancy and Mary Higgins Clark? An important question.

And then there’s my first name, Kathleen. Two syllables. Or three, depending on who’s mispronouncing it. A former boss from Russia: Kaht-tleen, may I call you Katya? My former roommate’s Brazilian brother-in-law: Kat-ter-reen. My Italian grandmother: Kath-a-leen. Are one-syllable names better? And will the “th” in my name hurt International book sales since it’s unpronounceable by most of the world? More important questions.

The one-syllable name does seem the wiser choice. Friends named Alicia or Cassandra or Annalisa are suddenly Kate, Sue, or Jill when ordering at Starbucks or putting in a name at the restaurant hostess desk. When searching online for a rescue cat to adopt, I couldn’t help but notice that cats named Hope, Max or King got adopted, while poor Popper Lone Pine and Mr. Scruff Baines remained waiting for homes.

What’s in a name? Says Juliet: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,” while Iago tells Othello: “Good name in man and woman . . . is the immediate jewel of their souls.” If Shakespeare’s conflicted, how are the rest of us supposed to figure this out?

One last thing. Should I use a name people would be familiar with? Name recognition matters in marketing, I hear. People like brands. Brands have catchy names and theme songs. (Okay, maybe no theme song.) I could try a one-syllable first name followed by a marketing-friendly last name. So many choices. Kat Kardashian. Kat Jagger. Kat Belichick . . .

Try it yourself. Way more fun than character arcs.

3 comments

  1. LeslieT

    Ha, this is great! I constantly fantasize about what my author name should be because my real name sounds like gray oatmeal. I also spend a lot of time on my characters’ names. Like you said, making up names can be a welcome respite from revision drudgery.

  2. Stephanie Gayle

    Oh, wow. Name choice? Sounds both terrific and terrible.
    And I love that you gave thought to which authors you’d be paired with, based on name choice (I did this a LOT)!

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