Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?

I’ve changed the name of my first novel to Radio Echo.

What’s in a name? Depending on what it is  – everything.  For a person, it’s either a moniker they’re stuck with and hate their entire life, or probably for most of us it’s one we’re ok with, maybe we play around with abbreviations, nicknames, but settle for what we’re given. But names are important. Rightly or wrongly, they can give an impression of what that person is like, or let us foolishly go along with our preconceptions.

Would we think of a strong, manly figure being called Pinkie? Well, I would have said no But take the main character in Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene. He’s called Pinkie and he’s a mean spirited thug. But did that make him strong and manly?  You make the call.

For writers, and particularly novelists, as we need to live with the characters for so long – as do our readers – names are incredibly important. I spent hours deliberating names for my characters for my first novel. The fact they are Italian names did not make the job easier. We each have personal associations that interfere with potential choices – people we know, or someone we don’t care for; perhaps a teacher who was particularly mean. Our own history colours our decision as well as the characters we’re trying to portray.

Some people say having names that begin with the same letters make it confusing for the reader. Two brothers called Harry and Henry, I can imagine being easy to mix up, unless their characters are either extremely well defined and/or very different from each other. Take the Kray brothers – Ronnie and Reggie Kray.  Can anyone remember which was which despite the publicity at the time, or the filmic portrayals etc.? I can’t.

The younger sister in my novel is called Alma. But initially the older sister, the main protagonist of the novel, was Essie (an Italian abbreviation of Esther). For me I knew who they were, but other people found their names too similar. They had the same number of syllables and they found them confusing. I eventually changed Essie’s name to Raffaella, which instantly made her a different character both in my mind and on the page. I also had to admit, part of the problem was her character hadn’t been clearly enough defined. So changing her name helped me shape her character. I talked about character in my blog a few weeks ago (see Real Characters Feb 18th).

So where does that leave us with the title of the work, in this case a novel? That too has to fit, has to mean something to someone who picks up the book and has only the blurb on the back cover and the title to help them decide whether or not to buy it. For the past 3 yrs the novel has been called Tracing Paper. And it fit the novel when I began. But the novel has changed so much, that the meaning behind it has become diluted.

So after a professional critique of the beginning chapters and other writers who thought it no longer fit, I have changed the title to Radio Echo. Even if you only know that the novel is set during WWII, the connotation of shortwave radios is there straight away. But the main protagonist, Raffaella does become involved with Radio Echo, the key transmission point for the local Resistance.

Letting go of the original name has been hard – almost like letting go of a friend. But as with any rewrites, you have to be prepared to be brutal, even if it was a favourite piece of the work. Publishers often change titles, so I may have to let go of it again. But to me, writing is all about change and rewrites. How else can the work grow and improve? My hope is that long term it will help me deal with change in real life, which is usually just a tad bit harder than a quick tap of a key or stroke of a pen.

How do you go about choosing names, or the title for your latest work? Was it a difficult process? Is it one that’s ongoing?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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Comments

  1. A.K., I’m not published or anything — hopefully I will be someday. But, I have worked through my darling manuscript that I love so very much and used several ways to choose names, and also for the annoying title ideas. Sigh.

    I’ve used several options. Either having a character end up a particular ethnicity (usually by accident) and naming them something that way, or having a parent be fascinated by something and naming them that way, or having an evil character and giving them the name of someone I despise in real life. Google searches help with a lot of these things.

    Titles? That seems to start from the heart. I then check for books and/or movies that already have the same title or something similar. Google, again. I’ve spent most of my “title” time starting over — at least my title is mainstream, so much so that I can’t/don’t want to use it! Did I sigh already? 🙂 I need to find something unique that I am hoping will pop up later as I move on.
    Evelyn recently posted..Honolulu Welcomes the Dragon!My Profile

    • Hi Evelyn. Thanks for your comments – I can see how attached you are to your manuscript and I can definitely relate to that. I thought it was interesting that you chose people from real life for an evil character – myself I don’t think I could live with them that long, but I can see the logic of it. And looking for titles on Amazon/Google to see if they have already been done is a must. It’s always annoying if it’s something you like only to find it’s been done loads of times. But I agree that ultimately the title does come from the heart, so hopefully something will come to you that way.
      Hope to see you here again.
      p.s. apologies for you getting this reply late – I posted it as a separate comment by mistake:(
      A.K. recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?
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  2. Hi Evelyn. Thanks for your comments – I can see how attached you are to your manuscript and I can definitely relate to that. I thought it was interesting that you chose people from real life for an evil character – myself I don’t think I could live with them that long, but I can see the logic of it. And looking for titles on Amazon/Google to see if they have already been done is a must. It’s always annoying if it’s something you like only to find it’s been done loads of times. But I agree that ultimately the title does come from the heart, so hopefully something will come to you that way.
    Hope to see you here again.
    A.K. recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?My Profile

  3. Hi Kathy.
    Too much time spent on names can mean, in my case, that the characters haven’t got anything done by the end of the day. SO I choose names of people I knew a long time ago while waiting for the right name to come along. Then having chosen names I check them over for meaning and previous use.
    Some names can quite easily become a kind of marque while you are busy writing yours into possibly published infamy. Some readers cant see passed the brand of a name, others cant see beyond the Bible. So your Rebecca’s and Ruth’s may just be popping to the bank to do a robbery and invest the money in a local militia but readers will know their servants of god from their studies and can not imagine you may have just picked the names randomly.
    Also consider when names arrived. They can say much about the person who chose the name and the culture they came from. How many Kylie’s are there in the UK around 20 years old?
    Title wise – My novella, Passenger was easy. it is both and accurate description of the main protagonist Martin Clements- MC – a man who records his road trip into a Dictaphone, and a metaphor.
    ‘Under the Singer’ was to have been a part of the novel it is now the title of. It is a reference to sitting under the Singer sewing machine listening to family yarns, as well as bird song and Isaac Bashevis Singer – one of the great story tellers.
    Sometimes a title can anchor the story, but the writer doesn’t always see that the tale has moved on. I started a novel in 1995 – named it straight away with the obvious title of, Letters from a dishwasher. The title tells you what it is. A series of letters from a Kevin Prentiss [in Spain] trying to do writing. Over time he becomes the story rather than being the reporter/ observer. The title still holds for a while but as the other characters begin to take positions within the novel and the POV changed, I slowly realised that it was no longer about the writer or the letters. So now [ if I ever go back to finishing it] it will be Letter from a dishwasher. That one letter that sets KP – slightly off centre stage, and kick-starts the mystery as to what happened to him.
    And there we have the naming game in a nutshell . We all now have our Kevins now don’t we?

    tom

    • Thanks Tom – You could have written the whole blog for me – I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m struggling!
      That was a great point you made about how other people interpret the names that you chose e.g the Ruth’ s Rebecca’s (popping into the bank to do a robbery was a great image – as if it was something they just decided that morning. Who knows -maybe they did) But it’s almost impossible to leave your own baggage at the door of the book. So that’s something worth bearing in mind too when one is looking at meanings and the like.
      As for your experience with titles -it’s true, for names too for that matter – that sometime they just come to you and can stick with whatever changes are made. I liked what you said about Under the Singer – it was just a part that became a whole. Which is what I meant about the ever changing nature of writing. It’s an inevitable part of the process, so if you’re not prepared to embrace it, then you’re in the wrong game. Fortunately I know that you are & you do.
      Really appreciate the comments being on the site – hope to see you here again.
      A.K. recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?My Profile

  4. Radio Echo is intriguing, and the connection makes sense. I like it better than Tracing Paper, which is also intriguing, however; I am curious about that connection.
    Joy V. Smith recently posted..Writing news updateMy Profile

  5. Kate Wesson says:

    Kathy,

    love Radio Echo – catchy and inspiring and evocative of wartime. Although I also loved the previous title.

    Finding a name for the house in my freshly- titled novel ‘Hiding Places’ came together quite quickly after your helpful prompts. It’s called ‘Chine House’ to reflect the geological features of Dorset where the story is set, but also belongs to the origins of the house – it was built by the brewery in Victoria’s reign and chine is the rim of a barrel. Incidentally, it also means animal backbone, very apt considering that’s what Matty, the protagonist acquires……

    • Really pleased you like the new title Kate – good to see your comments on the site – Thanks very much. I think Chine House is a good choice for your novel – the house is so central in a ghost story, so it really is important, as with any novel really, that the title both reflects the story and connects the reader. That’s pretty coincidental that it also means animal backbone too. It was obviously meant to be.
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?My Profile

  6. Really pleased you like the new title Kate – good to see your comments on the site – Thanks very much. I think Chine House is a good choice for your novel – the house is so central in a ghost story, so it really is important, as with any novel really, that the title both reflects the story and connects the reader. That’s pretty coincidental that it also means animal backbone too. It was obviously meant to be.
    A.K. recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?My Profile

  7. I haven’t published a book, yet. So, I will call my story in progress my manuscript that is an historical fiction.
    I was perplexed at first about names. But I decided on names of relatives, for main characters. Most have passed, but one other hasn’t. One character who acts mean is named after someone I do not like, my daughter’s ex. The ones I have not associated with my relatives are more difficult to remember. But those are only a couple. My young grandson named my story when I summarized it. Since the characters are on a quest
    and there is a piano traveling along part of the way, he named it, “The Voyage of the Ebony Piano.” And so far, I’ve kept it.

    • Thanks for the comment Janine. That’s interesting that you use names of relatives – it must make it all the more personal for you. Someone else mentioned using people they didn’t like for antagonists in their work – for me I wouldn’t want to be reminded constantly of that person. We stay with our characters for such a long time. But everyone has their own process. ‘Voyage of the Ebony Piano’- a good name & how nice that your grandson came up with it. Good luck with your work
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?
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  8. Thanks for the comment Janine. That’s interesting that you use names of relatives – it must make it all the more personal for you. Someone else mentioned using people they didn’t like for antagonists in their work – for me I wouldn’t want to be reminded constantly of that person. We stay with our characters for such a long time. But everyone has their own process. ‘Voyage of the Ebony Piano’- a good name & how nice that your grandson came up with it. Good luck with your work
    A.K.Andrew recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?My Profile

  9. Lisa Liscoumb says:

    Choosing names and/or a title is often the hardest part of the writing for me! In a recent short story I wrote, the name of the main character instantly popped into my head as I was writing, but I agonised over the name of the secondary character and the title for ages. Still not entirely happy with the title I came up with, but I was on tight deadline to get it into a contest.

    I agree that sometimes you can use names to show character – for a series I’m hoping to eventually write, I’m envisioning my main character as a tough as nails mercenary I’m calling John Phoenix, which leads to the potential titles all having the word Ashes in them (Out of the Ashes, Ashes to Ashes, etc.) but I also think you can have fun with going contrary to the characterisation – a huge bouncer named Tiny, an Asian computer genius named Edison Cho, etc.

    • Thanks for the comments Lisa. It’s funny how some just come into your head and others you agonize over. In my 2nd novel the names just came to me and felt right from the beginning. And as you say -when you have a deadline you have to just let it go. John Phoenix sounds like a tough guy which lends it’s self to the Ashes scenarios’s though you’d certainly have some competition on that front. But I do like the concept. Tiny as a bouncer is a good one too. Hope to see you here again.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?
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  10. Thanks for the comments Lisa. It’s funny how some just come into your head and others you agonize over. In my 2nd novel the names just came to me and felt right from the beginning. And as you say -when you have a deadline you have to just let it go. John Phoenix sounds like a tough guy which lends it’s self to the Ashes scenarios’s though you’d certainly have some competition on that front. But I do like the concept. Tiny as a bouncer is a good one too. Hope to see you here again.
    A.K.Andrew recently posted..Radio Echo – What’s in a Name?My Profile

  11. AK you make such a wonderful point about the names of characters helping define them.

    When I was about 10 I went through a stage of writing sweeping romance stories. My characters were all set in the Victorian era which at the time I thought of as sooo romantic. My main character’s name was Violet Burke (I thought it was such a good romantic old fashioned name). My Mom for many years would visit and give lifts to an elderly lady whom I knew as Aunty Vi (we South Africans have the quaint tendency of calling our elders aunty and uncle.) Funny enough after I had long discarded the story she passed away. I found out that her full name was Violet Burke. I wonder now had I overheard it once maybe or was it pure fluke.

    • Hi Vivian, Thanks for the comments. What a great story! And definitely I would use that name in some work. It wouldn’t have to be sweeping romance – I think it could work in a myriad of situations. As to how it came to you, I think we do overhear things as a child that we don’t remember and then when they come to us later it’s as if it’s fresh. That said i’m also a great believer in coincidence. Do let me know where Violet Burke ends up in your work.
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