Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z Challenge: R is for Rename

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. (

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?   


Stu Ayris said...

Great article!

I had a recent experience of having to rename my name in character in Tollesbury Time Forever - a Beatles obsessed alcoholic with mental health problems. Tollesbury (where I live and where the novel is set) is a very small village and most people know each other. What I didn't know, until he knocked on my door, was that there was someone living in Tollesbury with the same name as my main character! He was very upset to find on googling his name that he had all these problems! He was even talking about moving out of the area and cited my novel as a potential reason for him not getting jobs in the future! So I changed the name and we all lived happily ever after!

I like Tyler by the way!

Heather M. Gardner said...

Great topic.
Names are the bane and the prize, aren't they!

I have to have the right names but I don't need to know the origin of them. It just needs to feel right and sound right.

I tend to pick Irish / Scottish names. A lot.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Bummer you couldn't use Skylar.
The three main characters in my two books were all pre-named from when I started writing thirty years ago. So I have no idea how I selected the names. With secondary characters, at some point during the writing of the story, I get tired of leaving a blank, so I take about thirty minutes to brainstorm unique but simple alien names. Then I assign the best ones to the character they most fit. Yeah, sorry, not a lot of thought into those, but the names do seem to fit as I write the rest of the story.

JeffO said...

I never thought of Tyler as a girl's name, I don't think I've ever heard it used for a girl (except for Liv Tyler, but that's different). Skylar would have worked for me.

How much thought do I put into names? I generally don't analyze meanings when naming characters. I just come up with something that sounds reasonable, and go from there. Sometimes it takes a while for a name to stick, though, and a character might waffle between Mike and Frank a few times before I finally settle on Harold.

Lily Cate said...

I have certainly changed names with secondary characters, or even combined characters when I had redundancies in the cast.

I don't think I could rename a main character. Not after I've spent that much time with them, and since they seem to grow into their names as I work.
I don't see a problem with a male Skylar. That's sort of a gender neutral name, like Robin or Jamie - or Tyler! I actually know two little girls named Tyler :)

Lisa Regan said...

Although I love Tyler and it didn't disrupt my reading experience that time around, he will always be Skylar to me. I can't help it. He just always will be. LOL. Weird how that works! My characters usually come to me with their names already there even if I don't like them. It's weird though to have to change them. In Hold Still, Kevin's name in draft one was Jimmy but I changed it to Kevin because I didn't want too many Js, Jimmy and Jocelyn, too close together. But I still think of him as Jimmy!

Jack said...

My characters all have names that mean something to me. Each one of them either has a name with a particular meaning or have a name that has a certain rhythm. I always do my research when writing a book. And the names eventually come out naturally from the research. They roll of the tongue for me.

Chris Fries said...

Wow, great post, Nancy!

Part of me feels like it's petty and trivial that an agent would want the character's name changed. It's like the agent asking, "can't you make them a blond instead of a brunette?" It almost sounds like they're looking for reasons to pass on your story, without giving a truly valid justification.

But part of me also feels like it's no big deal, and if it helps, then whatever -- 'po-tay-to," "po-tah-to."

For whatever reason, I never put that big of emphasis on my character names, so I guess I'm kind of surprised that it was a stumbling block for the agent.

Anna Tan said...

Some names just stick when you've written them.
I thought Skylar was a pretty cool name.

At any rate, I just found out via recent news that "Anna" is a MALE name in INDIA. HAHA :)

So, who's to say what's male/female?

Carrie-Anne said...

Both Skylar and Tyler strike me as extremely trendy and overused among the under-10 set, but I agree that Skylar is 100% male. I wasn't aware that Skylar was now considered like Ashley or Courtney, a male name that's now by and large considered only for the girls.

Last year I officially renamed some of the characters in my Russian novels, after a decade of being in hibernation. During one of my later writing periods of the first book, I'd written it in so that the female protagonist's real name was Lyubov, and that she was sometimes affectionately called Lyuba or Lyubonka, Lyubochka, etc., by her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But so many people kept telling me it didn't make any cultural or historical sense for a Russian woman in a Russian novel to be called Amy, even if her legal and religious name were Lyubov. I came to realize that only royalty (who had almost 0% Russian blood in their bodies by the Revolution) made it a habit of going by their Western names. So Amy became Lyubov (called Lyuba in the text, since Lyubov doesn't seem like a female name to most Westerners), and her Estonians friends Elizabeth and Catherine became Eliisabet and Katariina, called Katrin for short. Now I wonder what I was thinking (besides being only 13 when I created her) to have thought I could call a Russian character Amy!

dayner said...

I have had to change two of my main character's name and it broke my heart. I didn't do it because someone said I should but because I knew it just had to happen. I'm weird about using the same letters in the alphabet in my names. I tend to use a lot of A, B and J names and I found that I just had too many and had to make the change. It worked out and I'm almost used to the new names.
I like Skylar and I know both men and women with that name. Tyler isn't bad though either. If you had to change, you made a good one.

Carrie Butler said...

I love Ty! Then again, I've only ever known him as such. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

I put a lot of thought into my character names--sometimes too much, I think, since I'll end up researching many definitions and agonizing over them.

It's too bad you had to change your MC's name. Skylar is unusual--and it sounds like it really fit him. Tyler is a good name, though.

The Golden Eagle
The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

Chuck said...

I quickly scrolled all the way to the bottom to comment. I didn't want to read anybody elses thoughts. So here is my opinion:

Who cares if they are a literary agent of staggering experience and note... stick to your guns. To anyone who has watched the TV show Heros, they know that Skylar was a perfect name for the guy character being portrayed. I never once thought, "oh no he has a girls name." I like your reasoning and thought behind naming your MC that name. That pompous agent thinks that with one wave of their hand the skies will open and you will have a best seller because they were genius enough to change that name. Pardon my French but bullshit say I.

Go with your gut. Don't worry about being safe.

Melodie Wright said...

I renamed my MC right before going on sub. My agent chose from several possibilities and I'm happy w/ her choice. Of course, it could change of the realities of going professional is that everything you write is up for grabs.
I do like Skylar better, tho.

Joylene said...

One of my most trusted critique partners said I needed to change Manuel Arcusa to Mateo Arcusa, then went on to explain why. I read her comment and changed his name. I actually had to look up what it was originally before I could reply. I like Ty. It rolls off the tongue nicely.

Hektor Karl said...

Don't hate me, but I'd think of Skylar as a girl's name first (whereas I'd definitely see Tyler as male).

I don't think it would make that much of a difference in reading novel, though, but I can see why it might for cover blurbs and such.

laurel mcdonald said...

Hi Nancy, Since you ask... I think you should keep the name Skylar. I do have a small disclaimer before I give my opinion. My daughter’s name is Skylar and she has met only boys with her name. It doesn’t seem to bother her.
When you named your character, his name grew and become part of the character. Readers will quickly identify with that the character as a male and this will not be a problem. For what it is worth I say go with your gut and keep his name Skylar. : ) Laurel McDonald