Maybe it was the affect of the tail end of the sixties, or maybe it was the weirdness of being strangers in a strange land, but my parents almost named my older sister Rocco. Disappointed that she was not a boy and grudgingly accepting that Rocco was not an appropriate name for a girl-child, they named her Anamari after a character in an opera.
Five year’s later they were ready to try again. This being before the time of ultrasound they hoped they’d hit XY paydirt. I was born female, two months early and just under two pounds. In 1972 this was all bad news. I imagine, though I never asked them, that they contemplated naming me Rocco anyway. There was some discussion that I might not survive, so they could name me Rocco and maybe, if the third child was the charm, recycle the name for him. Everyone agrees I was ugly. My mother still remembers that my hands were so small and thin that she could hold them up to the light and see through my skin to all the veins. Did my dad think that naming me Rocco might strengthen me to fight for my life? Did my mom think that St. Peter would look at the girl baby named Rocco and find it funny – not in a good way? I don’t think they named me for quite a few days and when they did, I was named after my father’s absent father. Read into that what you will.
Names have power. Names have histories and meanings and layers. Names ARE stories. I believe, fervently, in the power of names, particular in making inanimate characters alive.
BUT. I have trouble naming my characters. When I first get an idea for a story and start to build it, either in my mind or in notes, it’s always ‘woman, girl, boy, man,’ as if giving the character a name in those early stages is too restrictive, asking too much of a as yet fragile structure. I’ve tried giving my characters ‘placeholder’ names and that is worse. So for now, for some of the stories I have yet to tackle head on, it’s ‘the sisters’ ‘the man who was the mayor’ ‘the storyteller’. It can get a little confusing, but that’s what works for me right now.
What works for you? How important is having the right character name while writing the first draft? Have you ever gone on to the second draft and realized a name is all wrong?