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Writer-Talk Tuesday: Renaming a Character Halfway Through a Manuscript

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On Sunday, I posted this on my Facebook page:

    Got to the second page of Julie Klassen’s MAID OF FAIRBOURNE HALL and discovered that not only did we pick the same name for our heroines (Margaret—though mine goes by Meg), we picked the same name for their maids—Joan! Thank goodness I haven’t finished/turned in FOLLOW THE HEART yet, so I can re-name my Margaret’s maid and no one will think I stole these names from the inimitable Julie!

Which I followed up that same afternoon with:

    Okay, I have a new name for Meg’s maid. And now I want to write the maid’s book! ๐Ÿ˜€

(It’s amazing how spending time considering why a secondary character has a certain name can make us invest in that character’s story!)

But then, on Monday morning, I got this e-mail from my friend Ruth:

    So I saw you posted something on Facebook about renaming Meg’s maid…and I just read the summary for Maureen Lang’s upcoming Gilded Age book, and her heroine is named Meg Davenport…what is the deal with Megs???

At this point, I was rather dismayed. Not only was there one famous Christian historical romance author with a heroine named Margaret/Meg, whose book was out before mine, now there’s another one. I told Ruth that my inspiration for the name for my heroine in Follow the Heart came from Margaret Hale from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and that I imagined these other authors were either consciously or subconsciously either influenced by that character and/or by Meg March from Little Women. (But at least we could all be confident that Margaret/Meg was a popular name in the mid-nineteenth century both in England and in America.)

Halfway through writing this e-mail back to Ruth, my character suddenly (and finally—after struggling to connect with her since I signed the contract for this book back in August!) started talking to me. And you know what she told me?

Why have you been calling me Meg when my name is Katharine,
though everyone in my immediate family calls me Kate?


So, please allow me the privilege of (re)introducing
Katharine “Kate” Dearing

Holley Fain as Katharine “Kate” Dearing


What happens when we re-name a main character (not quite) halfway through a manuscript? Well, I’ve written before about how changing the name of the heroine in Stand-In Groom (from Nell to Anne) changed who that character was at a fundamental level.

After going through and changing the Margarets and Megs to Katharines and Kates in my manuscript, I discovered myself changing the ending of Kateโ€™s scene in the first chapter—and suddenly I understood why she was Kate/Katharine and not Meg/Margaret. She explained it to me right there on the page in a revision of the scene ending, despite my determination not to do any revisions/rewrites until I complete the first draft of the manuscript. However, what she revealed to me at the end of that scene not only allowed me to see where I can beef up the interactions between Kate and the romantic interest(s) in the story, it will help me going forward; because I now have a much clearer understanding of her personality.

But rather than try to force myself into dropping this newly understood Kate/Katharine right into where I’d left off last night with my writing, I decided to stop and get my bearings on the story to date.

So I gathered up some supplies . . .

. . . and I started storyboarding what I’ve written of Follow the Heart so far:

The small flower-shaped Post-it Notes are places where I know I need
rewrites/revisions/additions to what I’ve already written. But other than the
ending of the scene in the first chapter, I don’t plan to make any of these
additional changes until after I finish the first draft.

In writing the summaries of the scenes for the first few chapters—the ones I wrote as samples that went out with the proposal more than a year and a half ago—it was hard to remember to write Kate/Katharine instead of Meg/Margaret (she’s called the nickname by immediate family, the full name by everyone else). But then, because I was going from my manuscript—in which I’ve already changed the name (yay for find-and-replace!)—it became easier and easier to write Kate/Katharine. (Though typing Katharine might prove to be difficult—since it is my full name but mine has an E in the middle instead of an A, but I’m using the spelling Katharine in honor of my favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn.)

And now, a couple of hours later, I’m starting to think of her as Kate rather than Meg. And when I look at the pictures of Holley Fain I’ve pulled into my Templates file, I just can’t see her as a Margaret. She looks like a Katharine to me.

Has changing her name changed her personality—no, I don’t believe so. Changing her name has revealed her personality to me.

As a writer, have you ever changed a character’s name? How did that go for you?

As a reader (or movie/TV viewer), have you ever felt like a name didn’t work right for a particular character? That they should have been named something else? How did that affect your enjoyment of the story?

  1. Tuesday, February 14, 2012 1:46 am

    So, is Joan still Joan?

    Your post reminded me of the verse in Revelation, about God’s secret name for us. And you will no doubt be familiar with all the biblical examples of God changing someone’s name when they found their calling (e.g. Saul/Paul). I believe names are very important.

    I find it disconcerting when a character in a novel has a name that is not typical of the time or place. I’ve even been known not to buy a book because I couldn’t reconcile the name of the heroine with the way the book blurb described her.

    And your Katharine/Katherine problem? You could use Autocorrect to force the ‘correct’ spelling.


    • Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:33 am

      Iola, did you not see the second comment I posted—that I’d renamed the maid and now wanted to write her story? It’s an unusual name, especially for that type of character and the British setting, but it has a perfectly logical reason, which was why I got interested in her/her family, just from giving her a new name.


    • Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:34 am

      Oh, and I can’t use autocorrect to change it—because then it would change my name any time I had to use it. Which isn’t often, but I don’t want to have to go back and double-check to make sure that my name is spelled correctly every time I type it in the future. It’s safer to do a find-and-replace once I get to the end of a chapter.


  2. Tuesday, February 14, 2012 6:32 am

    In the first book I wrote (which is in my agent’s hands at the moment) I had my heroine’s name beginning with an A… and then another character (whom I’d already begun to write into her own story for a series) named Annabelle. I loved the name Annabelle for this character but as soon as I started having others critique my first book I was told so many times not to have their names begin with the same initials. So I changed Annabelle’s name to Meredyth. I’ve thought of her as such for about a year now… and I think I’m okay with it now. For the longest time I kept thinking of her in my head as Annabelle… and Meredyth on docs/paper. ๐Ÿ˜€


    • Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:36 am

      I ran into the problem with alliterative names in Menu for Romance—Major, Meredith, Maggie . . . but by the time I realized how many names I had starting with M it was too late to change them—because they’d all already been introduced in Stand-In Groom, which was already in production with the publisher!


  3. Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:00 am

    Can’t wait to read this book and find out the stories behind your characters. ๐Ÿ™‚ I just read Julie’s book this past Saturday ~ too funny that you picked the same names without realizing it!


    • Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:38 am

      I really need to message Julie and find out the inspiration behind her names to see how she came up with them and if it really is related to how I came up with mine.


      • Sylvia M. permalink
        Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:46 am

        It might be related to Margaret Hale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Margaret Dashwood had something to do with it.


  4. Tuesday, February 14, 2012 7:48 am

    Yay for Kate! Sounds like she is really talking to you now… ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Tuesday, February 14, 2012 10:00 am

    ๐Ÿ˜€ Would you believe the main character in the western romance I’m writing is “Katy?”

    That particular story has had names changed by the bucketful. Fortunately, I’m not that far along, so it won’t be a problem. My contemporary, though, had a name change that did make a difference, like yours with the maid. The best friend’s name was originally “Lucy Brown,” but that was too charlie-brownish, so I changed it to “Lucy Dixon.” Dixon is actually the name of the parents of the lady for which my 1916 house was built as a wedding present. Now, I have the beginning of a story about HER.


  6. Rachel Wilder permalink
    Tuesday, February 14, 2012 1:01 pm

    Yay!!! I’ve got goosebumps for you, which Winter will swear to her grave is the best possible response from me.

    I too can’t connect with a character until he/she has the right name. I couldn’t figure out the heroine in my current WIP for the longest time, because I couldn’t find her name. Everything I tried was wrong. When I wrote Monique for the first time, that did it. She instantly came to life and is a rich, complex young woman who’s helping me work through the rest of my issues related to you-know-who.

    And then with the man Monique is falling in love with, in the first book he was originally one of the bad guys. I tried to keep writing him that way, but it finally got to the point where he said look, I’m not a bad guy! I’m just confused and don’t know how to stand up for myself against my domineering mother. I listened and changed him, and now Winter and I are in love with him. He’s not an alpha male by any means, but he is a true gentleman.


  7. Audry permalink
    Tuesday, February 14, 2012 1:04 pm

    Sounds like this book is about to really take off for you, that’s great!

    I’m not a writer, but I am “first eyes” as well as co-plotter and brainstormer for a writer friend. She recently decided to re-write one of her early manuscripts, which had a good central idea but poor execution since she wrote it before she knew what she was doing. During the process of revamping the plot, she also renamed most of the main characters, (many of them two or three times during the plotting process) since their original names no longer worked with who the characters were. Talk about confusing! I do think it was important though, and the novel will work better with the new names.


  8. Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:30 am

    Names are so important, aren’t they? I “collect” names that are unique and look them up on those “baby name finder” sites to see what names mean, like the names Siobhan, Ineke, Ciaran, etc. A great site that can give you a look at different names in a culture is: I haven’t written fiction in quite a while, but remember Zee Edgell, my fiction writing prof, telling us the naming of characters can drive their story, and you just gave a perfect example.


  9. Sylvia M. permalink
    Wednesday, February 15, 2012 12:50 am

    Yes, I have read books where I felt like the author insisted on giving the hero a “cool, popular” first and last name. They didn’t even seem to find out if the name would have even been used during the time when that character would have been born.


    • Lady DragonKeeper permalink
      Wednesday, February 15, 2012 3:06 pm

      That’s annoying to me as well –sometimes I can get over it, but usually it’s always in the back of my mind. =)


  10. Wednesday, February 15, 2012 2:29 am

    Interesting question. I have that dilemma with my current WIP. We share the same name. I know it’s bad/amateur/WRONG to have author name match the character’s, but she’s had that name for forever and nothing else will fit. My answer: it’s easier to change mine. I’m just not sure how to query with this *problem*.


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