R is for Rename: [to reassign] a word or combination of words by which a person, place, or thing, a body or class, or any object of thought is designated, called, or known. (Dictionary.com)
Back on Day 14, letter N of the Challenge, I wrote a post about name, about how, as a writer, your name is your brand, and brand means everything. But even for the least notable among us, we still have a name, an identity that is all ours.
This is the same for our characters. We create life when we birth a character and set him in a world we’ve fabricated from nothing. We breathe spirit into him as he struggles to right his destroyed universe. We fall in love with him. He feels real because we’ve spent so much time struggling right along with him, feeling every emotion he’s felt. He has a name, an identity, one we’ve researched and put a lot of thought into, that sounded and felt just right for our story.
But what if, somewhere along the way, long after you’ve fallen for your hapless hero, someone says his name is all wrong, that his name is usually seen as a female’s name? And what if that someone is a literary agent of staggering experience and note? What if she told you she enjoyed everything about your story, except your protagonist’s name? What if she suggested you change his name? How would you feel? And more importantly, what would you do?
This is the predicament I found myself in last fall. You see, at the time, my main character’s name was Skylar. I researched this name and found this definition: “as a boy’s name (also used as a girl’s name,) is an English variant of Schuyler (Danish), meaning ‘scholar, protection; fugitive; giving shelter.’” This was perfect for my protagonist and his story; fit like a glove.
But this agent, whom I greatly respect, gave me pause. She put a worm in my ear I couldn’t get out. What if every agent I query feels the same way? Sure, if they truly loved the story, they’d look past the name, maybe ask me to change it. It certainly wouldn’t prevent one from representing me. But still, something as fundamental as a name could sour the reading experience from the very first chapter, and that certainly wouldn’t be a good thing. So, even though it felt very much like renaming my child, and Matthew MacNish said it was an “awesome name” in his critique on The QQQE, I decided I would go ahead and change it. Just to be safe.
Now, instead of Skylar, his name is
Tyler, which, by design, sounds very similar, but it has a completely different meaning, borne as an occupational name for a worker in roof tiles. Not too bad considering he’s a general contractor, but still, not nearly as romantic. At the very least, most folks recognize this as a guy’s name, as well as a girl’s. So I’m cool with it. I guess. Funny though, my critique partner and bff, Lisa Regan, still calls him Skylar, or Sky, even though she’s read the Tyler version. Just like me, she will always think of him as Skylar. It’s hard to let go.
How much thought do you put into your characters’ names? Has anyone ever suggested you rename one? What do you think about me renaming my protagonist? Which do you prefer: Skylar or Tyler?