Goodbye Maggie True

I’ve gotten used to the fact that I can’t “go by” my daily name (Julia Martin) as a writer—there are writers, authors and artists by the name Julia Martin. When I got married, I was cautioned by a friend: “Don’t change your name—I already know another Julia Martin.” 

It’s why I write under my full name (maiden as middle): Julia Munroe Martin.

Because of my own name issues, I’m used to checking and double checking names on Google and Facebook. Character names. So a couple of years ago, when I thought up the premise for my current WIP (a mystery novel) but before I committed, I googled the main character name I was going to use for my amateur sleuth: Maggie True.

Nothing. And so it was that Maggie True came to be. My MC and Joe True’s loving wife.

Now I’ve finished the first draft, onto revisions. And the other day on a whim I checked again. Sure enough there she was: Maggie True—and I’m not talking about a real person (although there is one). I’m talking about a fictional character. And not just any fictional character. A character in a mystery novel. And not just any character in a mystery novel: the main character in a mystery novel.

It’s an unpublished book (except on the web) and unfinished (hasn’t been added to in a couple of years), but still definitely a reason to change a character’s name. Right? But here’s the thing. I love the name. Everyday this summer I’ve sat down with Maggie True (86,000 words worth of keeping company), and even before that—on this blog—I’ve written about stepping into my character’s life, imagining what Maggie True would do when she encountered the mystery of the blue bags or tried to figure out what neighbor called the police about a woodchuck in her shed.

Regardless, I’m back at square one. On the one hand I feel lucky I realized it before starting to query (or self publish) my novel. On the other hand, I’ve grown very attached to the name so I’m in a bit of a funk about it. Maggie True has become my daily companion—her name synonymous with her actions and the story. 342-manuscript pages worth of adventures we’ve gone through together. But Maggie can be no more. Joe has lost his Maggie. And I have lost one of my favorite character names.

Which means….I’m back to looking at names again. She’ll still have the same last name (True), and the name needs to go well with her husband’s (Joe). Some early ideas I’ve had are: Meg, Agnes (Aggie), Katie, Trudy. Unfortunately nothing sounds quite right—not in my writer’s mind. Granted, it’s not quite the same angst I went through naming my children, but it’s a big deal. So, I’m turning to you, writing and reading friends.

Any name suggestions? Or should I just keep the name as is? What would you do?
Writers, how do you pick character names? Do you google them? Would you change Maggie’s name or stick with it? Have you ever changed a MC’s name late in the game? Would you be, like me, sad to say goodbye to a character name?


Cheers,
Julia

Comments

  1. I am in the midst of doing that very thing with my almost-revised WIP. It IS heart-breaking, because you DO begin to identify the character with that name. In my instance, I realized my farmhand’s name needed to change based on his culture and WHEN he immigrated to the US and from what town south of the border. Long story, but he went from Rodney to Chaupo. And now I may need to change again, because I fear readers will be confused reading about two “C” names — a Charlie (another character) and a Chaupo. Boo hiss…

    • What? I love Chaupo! Boo hiss, indeed. I see your point of view, and as I keep telling myself: “it’s just a name.” But when you spend hours and days with these people — even picturing them in your mind, it’s hard, isn’t it? Good luck with Chaupo’s new name… (I wonder, how does Chaupo True sound? Or is it a male only name?) :-)

  2. Erika Marks says:

    Oh, drat to that!! I know somewhat of how you feel, my dear–I had a similar experience with this WIP, suddenly my main character’s name was EVERYWHERE but what to do? I held on to it and am hoping it won’t take away from anything. BUT your situation is a bit tougher. Seems to me you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater–she can still be your Maggie, just change her last name, huh? Having to change both seems too hard to bear to me.

    • Your story of your MC (glad you stuck with the name!) reminds me of before my daughter was born — had never heard anyone who had her name until one week before my due date and I ran into someone at the grocery store who named their daughter the same first AND middle names. Unbelievable. Luckily I didn’t know her but turned out the name was on the top 10 list of baby names unbenownst to me (pre google days!).

      As for changing the last name instead, I’m pretty attached to that, too, but that may be a better option… thanks Erika!

  3. Ann says:

    Okay, this is gonna sound weird….but all I could think of was LATIN! Verus is Truth in Latin. Instead of Maggie True, what about Margaret Verus? Best of luck with the name and I’m sorry that someone beat you to the punch!

    • You and I think so much alike, Ann!! I actually had considered the word true in other languages, and I came up with Veritas. I like Verus, too. For now I’m stuck on one syllable last names, but that may change. Thanks so much for the idea (and the sympathy, too).

  4. Oh, no!! I think you already know how attached I’ve become to Maggie . . . and now I realize that goes for her name, as well.

    I can definitely relate to your angst. After I wrote my first screenplay I read a hard-hitting advice book (Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways To Make It Great) and found out how one of the ways my screenplay sucked was because my hero and my bad guy both had names starting with the same letter (B). I had chosen the bad guy’s name because my movie had some Western scenes where he dominates the landscape, and it sounded so much like a name from a Western. Plus I really came to identify with it emotionally.

    But the exercise of having to come up with a name from a different part of the alphabet was actually good. It stretched me (I really dug deep and came up with something I never would have been exposed to otherwise). And, bonus? I think the second name is actually better. It’s a little more subtle – but it also reflects his ethnicity better (black Irish).

    It did take me a long while to get used to it (I still occasionally slip and think of him as B—-) but, all in all, I’m happy I followed that advice. I hope it works out for you, too, in the long run.

    (Wah! Goodbye Maggie!!)

    • I’m so glad to hear your point of view, Milli! That’s such a good story to tell me about your screenplay, too, so that I can come to terms with the fact that this may actually be a good thing. I appreciate your sympathy, too, and I’ll let you know if I can part with her name and/or what I come up with!

  5. Call me crazy, but I think you should keep Maggie True. If that’s the name that resonates with you, I would stick with it. When I published BABY GRAND in May, I remember excitedly searching for “my book” (woo hoo!) on Amazon, only to find a SLEW of BABY GRANDs listed. WHAT?! I never even THOUGHT to google the name of my book or the characters. But even if I did, there was absolutely no way I was going to change the title of my book. Same with the characters. Are some names interchangeable? Sure. I made a last minute change with the name of the penitentiary in BABY GRAND. But I can’t imagine changing names I cherish just because there’s another character in another book somewhere — even if it is the same genre — with the same name. I mean, if there’s already an established character out there named Maggie True, more of a household name with a nice little literary series to call his/her own (think Jack Reacher or Lisbeth Salander), that’s one thing. But otherwise I say stick with what you love. :)

    • Dina! You’ve read my mind…. I keep thinking that maybe I SHOULD just stick with it, especially as you say since it’s not a household name. I mean if I’d called her Jane Marple… but as you say, the other Maggie True is no Jack Reacher, Lisbeth Salander and certainly no Jane Marple. Thank you for the opposing POV, I appreciate your insight and your experience!

    • Lisa Ahn says:

      Call me crazy too — I think you should keep the name.I agree with Dina that it’s not a household name, not the name of someone famous. It means a lot to you, and you’ve created your own Maggie True. I think she’s yours.

      I haven’t even read your WIP and I already love the name.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Lisa! I’m so happy to hear that you love the name — I do think it’s kind of perfect for the character, too. And as you say since it’s not someone famous, maybe I should just go for it…at least temporarily while I finish the draft and then make a final decision after I’m done. Thank you! xo

    • I have to agree with this part of the thread. You found someone else using the same character name, but it wasn’t from some big name novel (and technically unpublished, no less) – I think you’re good with her name. I mean, you might find that after thinking it through for a long time a new name will work, but boy that would be hard to change after her whole story has already been written.

      I am glad that you did the search, though. I am amazed that title searches aren’t done more often like Dina did. There are a remarkable number of “shades of grey” type novel titles out there (even before the most recent one) and I don’t understand why anyone would want their book to be so easily confused or clichéd like that.

      Many other good ideas for the name changes in this comment set. Good luck (and bless you for trying and coping with the pain of it)!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Janet! I agree that even though I (most probably) will be sticking with Maggie True, this blog post generated some incredibly good names and character naming ideas! I also agree that searches are a good idea — forewarned is forearmed, I always say! Thanks for your visit to my blog and for your comment!

  6. Barb Riley says:

    Hm, I like Erika’s advice of keeping the first name and changing the surname for her & Joe. And maybe this googling incident will coax you into an ignorance-is-bliss mindset? LOL easier said than done, right? We don’t want to be caught off guard and/or accused of copying anyone…

    I’ve had the opposite problem, actually… my WIP has a secondary character who is sort of snobby, and I can’t come up with a consistent name for her. I’ve already changed it once, midway, and I fear I will have editing issues in the future. But not having a clear and distinct name for my character is driving me crazy! Anyhow, Let us know what you decide to do. :)

    • Ignorance-is-bliss mindset. What’s that? Just kidding… seriously, the story of my life, looking for problems when I should let sleeping dogs lie, right? That’s so funny about your secondary character, but I’ve had that happen, too! In my last WIP (that I’m querying right now), there was a character that, I realized when I was in revision, sometimes I called Shelly and sometimes Sherry. I stuck with Shelly in the end, but it was pretty funny when I caught it. Let me decide what YOU decide, too :)

  7. CMSmith says:

    I know absolutely nothing about it.
    But I would keep the name.
    If you can’t keep the whole name, I would absolutely keep the first name. More personal

    Looking forward to reading it.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Christine — I’m leaning toward keeping Maggie more and more after reading these comments — I love it so much! Here’s hoping I can move on and finish the revisions once I resolve this. And if I change her name, hoepfully it won’t change her personality too much :)

  8. What about just adding to the last mane? Like Maggie Trueman? Truet? Trew or Trews? (Still sounds the same, and has that same overall subliminal effect.)

    It’s hard not to get attached tothe name we used the entire time we were gettting to know our character – it really becomes a part of them. Ditto titles – which we’ve heard get changed by agents and publishers ALL the time.
    Decisions, decisions!

    • Cynthia! I love the idea of modifying the last name slightly. Trew… genius! I’ll need to think about it (as you say, overall subliminal effect). As you say, hard to not get attached to these things. TItles I expect to change, names not so much… but maybe I need to change my mindset. Thanks again!

  9. Oh, that’s just heart breaking. =( One of my critique partners recently found out that someone took her (then available) WIP title, although she’s decided to go ahead and keep hers.

    As to names… what about Peggy or Margie? Nothing will ever feel quite as perfect to you, I’m sure. Good luck!

    • As you say, nothing will ever feel quite as perfect…. that said, I had thought of Peggy and do like it… so it’s in the running. Haven’t yet decided what to do, but I appreciate the empathy and suggestions!

  10. Kate Gerencer says:

    Oh, I’m sorry. What a loss.

    I like the idea of a similar last name, too. Maggie Blue? Or Maggie New? Maggie McCue? Maggie Drew? Wu?

    Good luck, Julia!

  11. Mia March says:

    No way, no how would I change Maggie True! That’s her name and you love it, so it’s yours. When a character’s name fits, heart and soul, it can be so hard to change it. I haven’t Googled the main characters’ names in my WIP; there are three, and I’m sure there are other characters with those names, and I just don’t want to know it! Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. (P.S. When I read Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You, I saw she had a Charlie Nash, like I did, and an April Nash instead of my June Nash, but had my main character been April Nash, I still would have kept it.

  12. Nina B says:

    I’d leave True as the last name, as that’s the part of the name with the real character. I like Maggie too. And I love Maggie True, but you can achieve a similar feel just changing the first name.

    Let’s play:
    Margot
    Maddie
    Molly
    Marley
    Miri (as in Miriam)
    Abby
    Annie
    Casey
    Elsie

    If I think of more I’ll comment again!

    • Thank you so much, Nina! I looked forward to your input, and you’ve come up with some great names (some of my favorites, too — Annie’s the MC in the novel I’m querying; Abby’s my dog’s name!). And I agree, True is the part of the name with the real character.

    • Love some of these suggestions! Maddie True has a similar cadence. That wouldn’t be such a great departure from Maggie.

    • I agree, Maddie has similar cadence and feel to it — would be a close second, as would be Molly (except there is that cousin of mine…)

  13. Aw, this is the kind of thing we all dread happening isn’t it? Really interesting comments too. I love the idea of changing True to Trew – think I’d be inclined to go with that. My instincts on 1st names before reading the comments Annie or Abbie because they carry the same tone as Maggie, but I knew you’d already used Annie. Oh, I’d be inclined to go for keeping Maggie, and True to Trew… or just keeping it as it is. Good luck Julia x

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Abi, and I agree — such interesting comments. Very helpful not just for this character but future ones too! I’m leaning toward keeping Maggie True as is. I just love the name so much and it ties into parts of her personality in the story, so True (or Trew) would be hard to change for those reasons. And, yes, we dread this — no question! xo

  14. Well, there is no rest for the weary, is there?

    I’m actually getting sweaty palms at your decision. I think it would be easier to change the title of the novel rather than a character name. The character’s name is part of how she defines herself. It’s almost becomes part of her personality.

    I love the name Maggie True. It’s a tough call. Is it possible to keep it as is for now and let your future editor make the call? (I don’t know how the mystery genre differs in this respect from mainstream fiction.)

    • I totally agree about the title vs. a character name change. I did change the title of my last WIP (the one I’m querying) based on some good advice from a friend in the industry. It was much easier to do I think because I really didn’t think of the title that often. But Maggie? She’s almost my braver, better-spying alter-ego right now! :) I think you’re so right to keep for now and let my future editor make the call! What good advice!

  15. Well, lots of good advice and my gut reaction was with the keep Maggie True camp. I had a similar experience — but I am just starting this novel thing. I had the beginning of my story. Thought it was sooo great. Then I read the start of a popular up and coming southern novelist latest and — she had the same twist. Ugh. I couldn’t believe it. I thought and thought how to change my beginning. But after a couple of weeks, now I’m back to the original because the more I thought about it, it had some things the same but in some ways it was very different. I remember that initial “Good grief” what am I going to do? But the more I thought about it, they were very different stories. Just follow your heart, Julia.

    • Thank you, Jamie! As you say, I just have to follow my heart (I’ll stick with Maggie True, at least for now). I know that feeling you got about the up and coming southern novel — I had the exact same experience with the book I’m currently querying. I read the description of a (very popular) book and it sounded almost exactly like mine. Since it was an already-published book, I downloaded it on my Kindle and read it immediately. There were startling similarities in plot but it was a very different book from mine. Still, it was not a good feeling… As you say, we just have to follow our hearts, but just like Maggie’s name, these things really can take the wind out of our sails, even if only temporarily….

  16. I see from the comments already that you’ve decided to keep Maggie True, and I’m so glad you did, because I think it’s perfect! It has such a memorable ring to it, and seems perfect for a sleuth. If the name had been taken by a very well-known author, I might’ve thought it’d be a good idea to change it, but right now I’d say it’s not worth your worries! She’s Maggie True to you, and it’s important to write what feels right.

    • Thanks, Natalia! I’m so glad you like the name — and your reasoning makes so much sense. And as you say, she’s Maggie True to me — and it’s important to write what feels right. And, I agree, it’s not worth my worries! Thank you :)

  17. Be true to Maggie! You would miss her greatly if you changed her name. Let it stand and just go it that darn thing published before the other one! 😉

    • Thanks, Hallie — you’re so right, I WOULD miss her. Ever since I discovered the name conflict, my MS has sat untouched. Now that I’ve decided to keep Maggie Maggie? I’m editing and revising again. Now I better get going! :)

  18. Maggie True says:

    Hello Julia:

    I’m feeling a bit disheartened by your dilema, being the Real Maggie True. I came across the Maggie True Mysteries on Facebook a few years back when students in the school I administered were commenting on the book about me (being that I too am writing a book). I spoke to the author of that book briefly and the odd coincidence that came across is that the author’s first name is the MC name for my book: Meg.

    I feel that choosing an MC name is very important as giving your children their names…you should keep the name as you have grown together through the adventures of your story.

    Personally speaking, I feel honored to have my name built into an icon of wonderful adventures…on the other hand, my daughter suggested to use her name as it is not quite common and you can keep the True…Nina…Nina True

    Good Luck with your story!

    ~Sincerely, Maggie True

    • Dear Real Maggie True!!!

      I’m so very glad you dropped by my blog! I’m so happy to meet someone who really is Maggie True and a writer to boot (the Maggie in my books is also a writer!). I thank you so much for your understanding in keeping the name — I have decided to do so! And the Maggie True book (Desired to Death, a mystery) is complete now. I’m in the process of querying and deciding if I want to self publish. Here’s hoping, however I proceed, that my Maggie has a long run.d

      I so appreciate your visit to my blog and especially your comment. It’s delightful to meet you!

      Sincerely,
      Julia