The Name Game

What’s in a name?  Apparently quite a lot.  Recently, I received editorial comments from my agent regarding my novel, GAME ON.  Lots of work yet to be done, but the most painful comment:  Change the names of my two main characters.

WHAT?!  Is she kidding?

This is my first fictional work and these characters lived in my head for a year before they even made it to the page.  They’ve been with me for nearly four years. Change their names?!  Why I couldn’t possibly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out here that one of my talented critique partners, another regular blogger on this site, pointed out months—okay, maybe years—earlier that my hero and heroine both had the same initials, therefore I should really change their names before submitting.  Then, as is now, my reaction was no freaking way! That’d be like changing the names of my own two kids.

Enter my oh-so-adorable teenage daughter, delivering words of wisdom complete with an expertly executed eye roll: “Get a grip, Mom.  They’re just words on a page.  If you want to get the book published, change ‘em.”

Out of the mouths of babes, right?  Or in my case, an insensitive 13-year-old.

To Google I went.

My agent questioned the identity of one of my secondary characters, too, asking whether the name, popular today, was prevalent fifty years ago when this character would have been born.  Sure enough, one quick search and I discovered the name wasn’t even on the list of the 1,000 most popular names during that timeframe.  Yeah, that’s why she’s earning money in this business and I’m, well, not.  Okay, so the names will be changed to protect the manuscript—most of them anyway.  🙂

While I was researching names, I needed a diversion to dull the pain, so I had a little fun Googling my own first name.  Of Irish and Gaelic origin, Tracy means “warlike”.  Hmmm.  I think my redheaded self will just leave it at that.

As I suspected, Tracy was one of the ten most popular names for girls born in the early 1960’s.   Look around you, most of the Tracy’s you probably know, be they “y”s , “ey”s, or “i”s, are all probably straddling age 50.  When my children were young, we lived in a neighborhood of 350 families and a whopping five mom’s were named Tracy.  It was a rarity for me to be around so many women with the same name.  My brother married a Tracy, but she’s of the “ey” variety.  (We love her anyway!)  But, I challenge you to find a person under the age of 25 with the name.  Hey, if you’re reading this and you’re expecting, what about Tracy for your unborn child’s name?  Warlike isn’t too bad.  Just don’t ask my husband, okay?

How about you? Have you checked out the history of your own name?  Any you’d like to suggest for my main characters?


About Tracy Solheim

Best-selling author of the Out of Bounds series--sexy, contemporary sports romance novels. See what she's up to at

Posted on September 30, 2011, in Blog Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Tracy, this was a very thought proviking post. I enjoyed hearing about the history of your name.

    Talk about anyone under a certain age with your name, mine is older than grandma’s winter underwear 🙂 Florence in latin is the root of “flower” … I was named for my maternal grandmother and my dad’s favorite city in Italy.

    I protested taht I wanted my middle name, so in protest I used it for the name of a MC in one of my books 🙂

  2. Tracy, I always use those baby naming sites where you look at the birth year and find the most popular names. Maybe I should have shared this little tidbit with you then ;).

    I love finding names for my characters and the meaning behind their names. Sometimes just that act helps solidify their lives in my mind.

    Another great post! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  3. I am with Christy on looking up the names, sorta. Southerners name our kids after relatives, so a modern Lucretia wouldn’t be abnormal. Did make an effort to have them all start with different letters,tho.

    I am sure your teenager learned her pragmatism from somewhere…. Roll with it baby. Other than Dagny Taggart and Scarlett O’Hara, rhett Butler and Harry Potter, I don’t really remember anybody’s name. Well there’s Jack Reacher and Penn Cage but that’s about it.

    Laura means “crowned one”! Excellent post.

  4. Great post! I can imagine it would be hard to change these names after becoming so attached, but I guess you have to take Meredith’s wisdom to heart! How many babies do you hear of these days being named Diane or Bruce? 🙂

  5. Ouch. That’s tough. I know what you mean when a character lives with you for months, years before the novel takes form. For my next novel, I asked for opinions on a name for my heroine (because some friends weren’t wild about the one I chose) and you know what? It was split down the middle.

    What’s the lesson here? Number one: do what your publisher wants or don’t get published, right? And number two, you’re never going to please all of the readers all of the time. 🙂

    • That’s the problem. Everyone has a different opinion. Some even have some very distinct associations with certain names if they’ve known someone with that name. Readers may even be put off by it. That’s what makes it so hard.

  6. Wow, Tracy (and everyone else), I feel like a complete dork here. I don’t devote much time at all on the names of my characters and will not be surprised when my editor tells me that I better change them. That should happen any day now, so after reading this post, I better get ready! I just think of a name I like and that sounds good in my head and one that I can live with for the long duration of the book writing without hating it. I become attached to the characters along the way and have gotten so accustomed to changing scenes and cutting out stuff I liked, that changing a name is not as important to me. Once it was suggested that I cut a favorite scene and of course I did it, then used it in another book and it worked well. So….

  7. Well, if it comes up that I commented twice it will be because after I hit the “post” button, it went into the nanosphere. What I was trying to say is that I don’t devote a lot of time to naming my characters. I pick names that sound good in my head and that I can work with easily during the time it takes to write the book without hating the names in the process. But I care more about my scenes and wording than about the actual names. I had to cut a scene once and loved it, so I put it into another book and it worked well.

  8. Ohhhhhh ouch. That would be painful. I had to change titles, and that was hard enough, but characters would probably beat me up a little.

    I use the baby name registry like Christy if I need a name from a particular time for secondary characters, but weirdly enough, my main characters come to me with their names. And they always seem to fit. But I also keep them basic, too, so it’s not difficult for them to fit.

    My mother made up my name, she played with the alphabet to get something different, and at that time, it was different. Enough that I could NEVER find anything preprinted when I was a kid…no bracelets, no keychains…none of those all-important things, you know.

    What are the names currently, that you are having to get rid of?

    • Early on, I pitched this book to an editor in NYC who didn’t like my title. I told her she could name it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for all I cared. She didn’t usually request contemporary romance–it wasn’t her genre, but she requested this one anyway just based on my response to the title change. She didn’t buy it, but for a couple of months we sent emails back and forth with the working title of the book as Chitty Chitty Bang
      Bang. 🙂
      My female MC is named Sydney. She is
      European, so I thought the name fit, but my agent
      feels it is too unisex.

  9. Oh Tracy, that’s tough. When I name my characters, I name them by gut feel and if I change the name, it changes my character’s personality. I always thought if I received one of those requests, I’d do all the revisions with the original names, then just close my eyes and make the name changes at the end.

    As to the meaning of our own name … thanks to the Paul Hogan movie, Crocodile Dundee, most people probably know that in Australian slang, Sheila means “a woman”. Beyond that, it is supposedly Irish and Gaelic and means “blind”. My husband will attest to the fact that the name fits me perfect as I am often oblivious to whatever is in front of my nose. 🙂

  10. Sheila, that’s exactly what I’m doing! Making the changes and I’ll tackle the names at the end. My female MC did get a name change right away. Much as I hated to do it, she needed help with her motivation. Once I changed her name, it was easier to fit her with the “new” motivation. It altered her character enough that the new motivation fit. Funny how that works, huh? Sydney will get her day, though. 🙂

  11. Naming my characters is the hardest part–I have to fight the urge to give them all exotic names.

    • I think if you give characters a name readers won’t associate with a real life person. That way you can create your own character. Sometimes, it’s the exotic names that work for that.

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