Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Name Game

What’s in a name, really?  These days a name can easily mean the world, or in many cases, absolutely nothing at all.  Some people name their children after family members, or people who were otherwise influential in their lives.  Or perhaps parents, through research, discovered a name that had a meaning behind it that resonated with them.  And, of course, there’s always the equally viable “I liked the way it sounded.”  I, for example, have the middle name Gene.  Yes, I am female, and I know that my name is therefore supposed to be spelled J-E-A-N.  I get that, and I endured a lot of teachers misspelling it over the years.  Yet, my parents’ use of the male version of the name was quite deliberate.  First of all, I had an aunt named Gene.  And second, my parents loved Star Trek, so it seemed that having the same name as Gene Roddenberry would be a desirable thing.  This is just fine with me.  It proves that, from the very beginning of my life, I was always going to be a geek.

Anyway, getting to my main point, though our names may, or may not, have special meaning behind them, our culture accepts that titles generally convey a lot.  If they don’t, they fail.  The title of a book is an opportunity for the writer to connect with potential readers.  Now, I realize I am essentially unpublished (I’m not sure how much the occasional published poem and single essay in a small magazine over a decade ago count), but I have enough knowledge to say this with confidence.  And as I know that the titling process is important, I figured I would share a little of my process with the world.

First of all, I never start with a title.  I’ve tried to start with a title and work from there, and the title certainly gave me a launching point, but by the end, the story had outgrown the original title I’d chosen.  These things happen.  That’s why the concept of “working titles” is so prevalent.  And while I may use a working title along the way, I still go through a final naming process at the end.

The process begins with me making a small list of important themes and objects/places/events present in the story.  Sometimes it’s as easy as choosing an important object or event to double as the title, but in my case, it usually doesn’t.  I’m much too hard on myself for that.  I usually end up traveling the thematic route, though on occasion I’ve combined the two methods. 

When traveling the thematic path, I select a handful of words that go along with the themes I’ve identified.  For example, a theme might be death, so I might choose the word “darkness” to symbolize nightfall.  Yes, not original, but it’s just an example.  Once I’ve picked out a few I like, I compose a long list of variations that I think would accurately portray that mood of the story I’ve told.  Going with darkness, I could call it “Darkness Descending” or “Walking into Darkness.”  With the final list of options in hand, I read them out loud so I can get a sense of how they sound.  I may share them with others to get feedback.

Obviously this is a task I take quite seriously.  Sometime in the near future I’ll post a written example of how this process goes down.  The example will be given in precise detail.  I tried to explain it clearly here, but it can get quite complicated, and I know making sense of my ramblings can be challenging for anyone, even on the best of days.

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