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John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

28 September, 2010

First of all, I must digress (can one digress before beginning? but I digress from my digression…) to note that the song from which this entry takes its title makes no sense to me. If the narrator’s name is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and he goes out with his friend named John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, why don’t people shout something like “There go two guys named John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!” or “There go those two guys with that stupid name!’ or ‘Hey, it’s John and Schmidty!” (because when you have multiple friends named John, at least one of them has to go by a nickname).

Anyway.

I have problems naming characters. This is generally a mystery to my non-writer friends and family. “How hard can it be?” they want to know. I take this question as a sign that I can text them in the middle of the night when I’m desperate for suggestions for a barista’s name. My problems tend to fall into these categories:

1. I name characters after famous people. I get excited about a name because it sounds like it could totally be the name of someone in real life, only to realize after 1-6 months that that’s because it is the name of someone in real life. Three years ago, I wrote a main character who went by the pseudonym Amy Adams. In last year’s NaNoWriMo manuscript, my hero is named Jason Jones. Also, I like alliteration.

2. I love J names, especially for men. Jacob, Jason, Jeremy, Joshua, Jonah, Justin, Jeremiah. I want to use them over and over. This would make for a confusing story, and it’s going to be a while before I can claim it’s a quirk of my brilliant best-selling author brain.

3. Along the same lines, I get in a rut during a story and later realize that everyone’s name sounds the same. Amy, Stacy, Tracy, Darcy, Casey… if I write a story about a pop group, it could work to my advantage, but otherwise I don’t think it’ll fly.

4. I go completely blank. Think Mulan: “I have a name. And, it’s a boy’s name, too! Uhhhhhh…” The only names I can come up with at all are the names of people who are in the room with me. Since my cat’s name isn’t a person’s name and the man in my life has a J name, I’m generally out of luck there.

Non-writer friends, as noted above, aren’t sympathetic. “Why didn’t you name the baby after me?” my dentist asked when I tried to explain the problem I’d had naming a heroine’s firstborn (answer: my dentist’s name is Joseph). And of course it’s not hard for them to come up with ONE name, but they should just TRY to write a whole novel full of people with names, and THEN they should try to write lots of novels, and THEN they should come over and wash my dishes while they’re at it because those dishes are not doing themselves while I write this entry, I tell you what.

Honestly, I think my biggest problem is the sense that if I can just get the perfect name, it will imbue the character with that elusive spark of life, and the wrong name can tank a story completely. Until I shake this fear and break my bad habits, I’m doomed to surf baby-naming sites for hours at a time and draft conversations between Unnamed Best Friend and Hot Firefighter’s Brother.

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