Naming has to be one of the most interesting aspects of writing that I’ve run into so far. Everyone and everything has a name, which almost makes naming mundane and trivial. Almost, but not quite. If everyone and everything has a name, then how do those names come about? How is it that someone can name all of their characters, cities, systems of power, and so on without throwing their head back and screaming or giving up before the job is done?

I’m going to be completely honest; I don’t know!

Luckily that isn’t the point of this post or I would be in trouble.

During my outlining process, which has turned from something I meant to keep brief to a massive catalog of information, I’ve had to name a numerous amount of things: characters, organizations, cities, government sects, deities, and so on. Some of these are still unnamed and have temporary labels until I come up with something better, while those that have names are steadily fleshed out to become the great thing or character I have envisioned. So – and here comes the lesson! – this tells me something important.

There is strength in naming!

Think about it. Using an example of the Greek pantheon, imagine if Zeus was merely called the “God of Lightning, Sky, and Air” and Poseidon “King of the Sea.” These names work, but they lack a certain substance that give them more validity and power. Their validity is lessened further when other gods and goddesses are introduced that bear similar titles. If there were many deities of the sky and sea, how would we distinguish between them? Why would we care about them?

Stories and feats can sometimes replace the strength that a name gives, but usually the title has to be unique in its own right. Examples like The Upright Man from Feist’s world of Midkemia or Mass Effect’s Shadow Broker do this well. Through the actions of these people, the titles become strong enough to replace any given name. Without these feats and stories behind them, the titles would be just as empty as the unnamed pantheon. Could you imagine Superman being acknowledged as Superman if he didn’t save Metropolis every now and then? Spider-Man? Ha, he would be laughed at if he simply walked the streets like every other person.

However, I digress from my point! Aside from the above examples, I’ve found that the naming can make a difference in a writer’s interest for certain outlining/plotting aspects. I, for example, couldn’t dive too deeply into the building of my story’s city without giving it a name. The name itself, like with characters, had a feeling that helped define and breathe life into the city. I had ideas in mind for particular buildings and sections for the city, but those ideas lacked a core that brought them all together until the city was named.

Similarly, I’m having issues with a particular organization that plays an important role in the plot. I know what I want it to do for the sake of the plot, but the lack of naming keeps me an inch away from ownership and the next step in its characterization process. It is like wandering through an unfurnished building of my design. I’d like to tell the movers that they can start bringing in the sofas, tables, and so on, but the name is the password that keeps them from coming inside. Cheesy example, but it makes the point.

So, as you can see, I’m still floating through the middle of this lesson, but I’m on the right track to success. Now to keep on writing!

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