— image from Wikimedia Commons
I stood in front of the display, trying to clear my mind. Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening formula? Mouthwash crystals? Baking soda? Tea tree oil?
“May I help you?” said a clerk at my elbow.
“I’m looking for toothpaste.”
“We’ve got it.”
“Yes,” I replied uncertainly. “I see that.”
“What are you looking for? Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening…”
I zoned out and didn’t follow the rest of her spiel. After her mouth stopped moving I grabbed a red and white box, walked up to the counter, and paid. It was fluoride-fortified whitening gel-striped minty cinnamon organic fresh toothpaste but I no longer cared. All I wanted was toothpaste.
I’m not confused by multitudes of choices in general. Just buying toothpaste, and maybe athletic shoes. Something that doesn’t confuse me, has a million choices, and that I can spend hours or days choosing is character names. Choosing character names for a short story or a book sounds like a trivial detail, but the wrong name choice can grate on a reader’s nerves like a faucet dripping in the middle of the quiet night, or that one mosquito in your bedroom that you can never catch.
I can’t just grab any old name and say, that’s the one. It has to have just the right ring to it, and it has to be a good fit. Does the name sound too much like another character’s name? Three main characters named Nathan, Nathaniel, and Nancy sound potentially confusing and repetitive. Do the names reflect the time period the book or story is set in? Dorcas, Tamsin, and Bildad are good names but also instantly recognizable as from Colonial America, just as Flavius and Domitia are from ancient Roman times. Addison and Jaden would set the stage for modern times, but don’t feel right if the author was writing about the 1970s. Do the first names sound good with the surnames? Does the feeling behind the name fit the character? I take my time and mull over these questions until I find the answers. Just toothpaste, but not just any name. It takes time, and care, and love.
Do other writers go through this process in naming their characters? Probably not all, but I’m sure some do. Are their books or stories any better for agonizing over their name choices? Again, probably not. But that’s how I roll.
PS: Let’s bring back Lavinia. I love that name so much.