I saw this exorcism movie once where the exorcist explained to his apprentice that if he (the exorcist) could trick the demon into revealing his (the demon’s) name, he (the exorcist) would have power over the demon and could tell him to get the hell out, so to speak. Apparently this technique works well with demons.
It also seems to apply to fictional characters. It’s really important to get the name right.
I was unutterably wretched in the early days of And the Next Thing You Know… when I was working, without much progress, on an outline about Jeffrey and this boy he’d met named—Toby.
Nothing was happening.
I was convinced that I only had the one book in me and it was stupid of me to try to write another. About Toby. I never liked the name Toby. So I flipped through a list of names I'd been gathering and there at the bottom was--Theo.
As soon as Toby became Theo—easy enough to do with the “Replace All” function—I knew who he was, I knew his bluster and his insecurities and I understood his strange, self-absorbed, amazingly unaware snarkiness. The book started to come together. It was weird.
I own more name-your-baby-books than any parent, and, as noted, I keep lists. I collect names, from life, from TV, from wherever. Old friends, kids I knew in grade school, Jeopardy contestants.
I have lists of cute, attractive names; I have lists of douchebag names. Names for both Messrs. Right & Wrong, respectively.
Theo is a cute name. Toby has gone back into the cute-guy hopper to be used another day. (Oddly, as I work on this little piece, that name keeps crooking its cute-boy finger at me, and Toby may show up sooner rather than later. We'll see.)
Douchebags: I’ve never met a Brad who wasn’t one (sorry if that's your name, I'm sure you're lovely); Darryl is the obligatory douchebag in a new book, as Madison was in the last one. In that book I also had a conceited off-stage douchebag that Madison was hitting on, for whom I’d tried a few different names. He started out life as Sawyer. I changed him to Pennington for a while. That handy “Replace All” again.
Then one day I was having my lunch at my usual spot in front of the public library on Fifth Ave., and there was this—like a sign from God. Or at least from the little guy selling lukewarm soda in the kiosk on 42nd Street:
I’d never heard of Tanner as a given name, but Diet Coke wouldn’t lie. Obviously it impressed me—I took a picture of it.
Anyone named Tanner was clearly destined to a life of douchebaggery.