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Monday, December 20, 2021

A Lesson about Names

Meet Newton

Recently my family adopted a new cat.  He's new to us but, at about two years-old, we are his third home.  We promised to take him in when a friend moved and then they told us his name.  Apparently, we had invited Lucifer into our home.  

After we were told his name, we were also given a list of warnings.  He's aggressive.  He's a pest.  Will he take down the Christmas tree?  Who knows.  He's never seen one.  

But as we've gotten to know him, we've realized something. Lucifer is a horrible name for this curious, playful cat.  After trying out approximately 4,692 names, we're now calling him Newton aka Newton the Ninja.  

What does this have to do with writing?  Quite a bit actually because names bring expectations.

Your Writing

When you submit your work to a publisher or agent, make sure that you use the right terms.  This means that if you are new to writing for young readers, you need to learn the terms that everyone else uses.  A picture book is incredibly different from an early reader although both are illustrated.

The same holds true for your writing for adults.  If I send an agent a "cozy mystery," my detective had better not be an actual detective.  A science fiction novel involves cutting edge, futuristic science.  A fantasy includes magic.  Speculative fiction can have both.  

Your Characters

Character names are just as tricky.  A female character named Babette will immediately conjure one image while a woman named Iz will bring to mind someone completely different.

This doesn't mean that your character's name can't be a surprise, but that works only if you consider the expectations that your reader will have when they see the name itself.  Babette may be a welder while Iz wields a pen as a professional calligrapher, but to employ the humor you need to be aware of the expectation the name conjures.


No, I'm not going to suggest that you change your name or use a pen name.  Although if you want to do either, go ahead. What I am going to recommend is that you call yourself a writer.  Apparently not all of us do.  Some of us are teachers who write stories.  Or we might be accountants who add words together to create poetry.

And that's all well-and-good.  Day jobs are vital in enabling us all to have the tech we need to be here.  

But calling yourself a writer is also critical.  If you see yourself as a writer, you are more likely to take time out of your day to write.  After all, as moms and wives and daughters and employees, we all have other demands on our time.  As writers, we acknowledge that one of those demands is stringing together words.

Names are powerful things. Give yourself permission to write by calling yourself a writer.  This will also help you to find the space you need to learn the terminology of your craft and have fun naming your characters.  After all, it is all part of beung what?  A writer. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on January 2, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins January 2, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins January 2, 2022). 


  1. Sue--I'm so glad Lucifer has a new name, although I still can't help but smile at his original. One of my dogs is named Sonic because that's the name he already had. Once we go to know him and his super hyper playful self (and the fact that as a chihuahua terrier mix he could scale split rail fences!) we knew the name could stay. I also thought long and hard before naming the two sets of sisters in my NaNoWriMo project--I wanted to make sure their names would hold up given the generations they came from.
    Renee the writer

  2. Renee,
    Some names are easy and come to me quickly. Others? Not so much. I always think of my cousin. Both dogs and the horse all had the same name. Big Blue, Little Blue and Blue.


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