Do these characters need new names?

The soft sci-fi/futuristic books I’ve done the most work on and have the most notes and memorized storylines for are What’s to Become of Us All? and Greentown. The latter is a book set in the future and could only be considered slightly soft sci-fi simply because it’s set in the future. It takes place in a fictional hippie community in Australia between the years 2023-26; the main character’s family came from Pennsylvania after her dad died in a mining accident. What’s to Become of Us All? spans 3001-06, and starts in St. Paul, Minnesota, and quickly moves to a space colony near Jupiter. That one has a plot too tied up in that stupid “Single moms by choice rock and ‘Nuclears’ suck and deserve discrimination!” crap to be entirely rewritten. When I get back to it, I’m going to have to restyle it as a sort of Brave New World or We-style dystopia, and show the resulting culture clash that comes when the protagonist leaves Earth and discovers people living in outer space mostly have nuclear families and don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread to be a single mom by choice and deliberately shun the mere idea of dating or having sex.

But I’m thinking the protagonists of these hiatused books might need more stand-out names. I already decided to change the name of the protagonist of Undersea World from Bella to Ghisolabella, because of a certain franchise that’s now made that name even more insanely trendy and overused. I was so embarrassed when I looked back on my notes and discovered her name wasn’t Bella by itself. It was a nickname for Witchabella. Well, I was only 12 years old when I came up with the idea for this book. I guess it was a good thing I had such a fertile imagination.

The protagonist of Greentown is named Terri, and her little sisters are Nikki and Vikki. I’ve got another Vikki in my Atlantic City books (Cinni’s granddaughter through her firstborn daughter Anastasia), a Viktoriya in my Russian novels, and a Victoria as the protagonist of the hiatused A Spacey Kind of Fun, which starts in the year 2050. The lattermost Victoria is called V.J., since I was just obsessed with initial names as a preteen. I think I’ll have to just call her Victoria or Vickie when I get back to it. I’m not against initial names, but too many of them can be really annoying, esp. if the person or character already has a perfectly fine full name.

Nikki’s not so bad as a character name if it’s not a main character, and if it can be short for something like Nicoletta or Nicolina, to be a little different. But the name Terri is just kinda there. The protagonist of WTBOUA? is named Casey. I’ve got nothing against either name, nor against people bearing those names, but when you’re talking about the shero of a book (as opposed to a secondary character), it seems you’d want something a little more uncommon, something to stand out. I’ve used plenty of established classics for characters over the years (e.g., Katherine, Elizabeth, and Mary in their various forms, the abovementioned Victoria, Sara[h], Jozef, Samuel, Peter, Philip, and Robert), but Terri and Casey still seem kinda nondescript when it comes to book characters.

My taste in names tends towards the classical eccentric and classical unusual styles, with names like Octavia, Justine, Eulalia, Ernestine, Oliver, Iolanthe, Wolfgang, Yseult, Bertrand, Claudius, Edgar, Felix, Herman, Gemma, Galatea, Ivy, Livia, Leopold, Lysander, those sorts of names. A name that really stands out (in a good way) helps to ensure a character is remembered for a long time to come. As fine, solid, and established as a name like Mary or John is, it’s so common it’s going to take a lot to get the character to really stand out. And since becoming a serious name nerd in 2002, when I started discovering reputable naming sites (not the crappy ones claiming Heaven spelt backwards is “Slavic” for “beautiful sparkly butterfly fairy princess”), I’ve found so many great names for my characters, and other names I’ve got reserved for future ones. I even learnt many of the so-called meanings in the old baby names pamphlet I used to use were dead wrong, sometimes hilariously so.

Casey starts out as a spoilt 13-year-old mall rat who cares more about gossip, boys, fads, and fashion than anything substantial. She’s pretty damn vain and unlikeable. Her mother’s foster twins M.J. and S.J. (who will be called by their real names, Meredith and Sara, when I return to the book) are actually more sympathetic, even though I was trying to write them as annoying little brats who dared to contradict Casey about everything and do things differently than Her Highness. I suppose a name like Casey could fit a character like that, since, let’s be honest, certain names have certain stereotypes and associations. The name Casey, in all its spelling variations, does seem to be associated with teen girls who frequent the mall and follow trends targeted to teens instead of serious students, Goths, romantics, or other types of stereotypes other names have.

But it’s just not the type of name I’d give to a character were I thinking up and starting that story now. When I was 12, I didn’t have a huge store of names to draw from, so I tended to pick names I already knew. I don’t want to give her a name conjuring up a completely opposite type of personality, like Calantha, Minerva, Zoraida, Sophronia, or Viviana, but it would be nice to find another name that comes across with a bit more personality and memorability. The name goes for Terri in Greentown.

First Campaigner Challenge

The First Campaigner Challenge in Rachael Harrie’s ongoing Platform-Building Campaign is to write a story of 200 words or less starting with the line “The door swung open.” Extra credit is given for ending with the line “The door swung shut” and using exactly 200 words. I never ever got into short stories and could only write them if I used pre-existing characters and made short bonus adventures for them outside the books I’d already featured them in. Writing in the short form has always felt far too limiting for me. I thought about using my character Casey MacGregor (female) in one of my hiatused soft sci-fi books, so at least I’d have a character I know a bit about but still don’t know nearly as intimately as my other characters. Then I decided to make it more challenging and use a character I’ve never worked with before, to remove any sense of cheating.

Undersea World is one of my soft sci-fi/futuristic books I have notes for but never actually began. It begins in Boston in the year 2998, and the main character, her mother, her four siblings, and their Boston Terrier Saturn (the name I always wanted to use if I got a dog of that breed) move to an undersea community with houses made of coral. The father was caught having a relationship with another woman, hence the reason for the drastic move. (My original notes say he “turned sick” by having this relationship, as this was still that loony period when I [at twelve years old] truly believed planned single motherhood was the wave of the future and that no one would have romantic or sexual relationships anymore, once they realized how superior it was to have a world where children are created by sperm bank and only a small minority of “Nuclears” [as in nuclear family] resist such normal, socially correct behavior. In my mind, it’s been changed to a normal married man having an affair. I got too far into the book featuring Casey to write out that aspect without destroying much of the essence of the plot and the future world I created, so I figure I’ll just rework it to be a dystopian society similar to the one in Brave New World, where children are born without sex and the idea of falling in love is laughed at and seen as gross and abnormal. The society she encounters when she and her mother move to a space colony near Jupiter in the year 3001 is much different, and Casey can’t understand why these people would live as though it’s a thousand years ago.)

Anyway, for the flash fiction challenge, I decided to use these characters I’d never worked with before. Originally, the main character’s name was supposed to be Bella, but thanks to the Twilight franchise, that name is now unusable for me as any main character. I changed it to Ghisolabella, a name I first encountered in The Divine Comedy and have loved ever since. I don’t think what I came up with is that great, since I’m out of my element in the short form, but I got it to be 200 words exactly and to begin and end with the proper phrases.

The door swung open and Ghisolabella went in search of Saturn’s raincoat.  As she was going through the closet, she found a strange pink raincoat.  She knew it couldn’t belong to her mother, since Mrs. Cummings hated pink.  Then she heard odd noises coming from her parents’ room and decided to investigate.  On her way down the hallway, she was hit by a very strong odor of perfume.

For a minute she wondered if her older brother might’ve snuck a girlfriend home and decided to dishonor their parents’ bed, but figured he had to know enough to do such things in his own room and not risk even more trouble by choosing their parents’ room.

Ghisolabella screamed when she saw her father coupling with a strange woman, dropping Saturn’s leash.  The strange woman pulled away from Mr. Cummings and ran into a corner to hide.

“What are you doing!” Ghisolabella demanded. “How long has this been going on?”

“It’s not what it seems.  I didn’t intend to get a mistress.  But after fifteen years and five kids, it’s normal to want a change of scenery.  Can you keep this secret?”

Ghisolabella ran away shaking uncontrollably and the door swung shut.