May I have your name Summoners, Con artists, and Pastors?
What? I’m not going to steal it or anything! Why would you ever think that! No, no, I just want your name—I mean, I want you to TELL me your name—because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
The Power of a Name
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
This is a very rich prompt, full of opportunities for strange magic, and very real messages.
The first angle my brain goes to is the fae. Perhaps you want to tell a story of someone encountering a fae, and facing the consequences of their name being stolen. Or maybe you want to write about someone cunningly avoiding this fate—not lying (mustn’t lie to a fey) but not telling the truth either.
Maybe you have another sort of magical creature in your universe with the ability to deal in names. Maybe your character walks up to the name dealer in the market to see their coat full of names—and you don’t want to ask where they got them. Maybe a fortune teller can read your destiny in your name—or perhaps even shape it by reshaping your name. Maybe when a witch calls you by a certain name, that name becomes a spell—it becomes you.
But magic isn’t the only way a name might have power. In the live action Cinderella, “Ella” is her real name, but her stepmother and stepsisters call her “Cinderella” as a degrading name. One of my favorite lines from the movie is: “Names have power, like magic spells. And of a sudden it seemed to her that her stepmother and stepsisters had indeed transformed her into merely a creature of ash and toil.” There’s no true magic involved in this scene, but the name has power over her still. The name grants extra power to the abuse she suffers; her identity has been stripped away; she is no longer the noble Ella her parents cared for. She has become a thing of cinders. Perhaps you want to write about this sort of thing. What happens when a parent, stepparent, sibling, uncle, etc—someone who is meant to love you—gives you a name like this? What happens when they pretend you are family, but call you by a name that is anything but? What happens when the true name your parent or guardian gives you is something cruel?
Bullies are one of the most common people groups that use cruel nicknames. In Before I Fall, the cruel nickname that Lindsey gives to Juliet starts off a chain reaction that continues through the years, eventually leaving Juliet suicidal. There were many other cruel things Lindsey (and others) did to Juliet, but it was that name that started everything, and that name that Juliet always returns to in her mind. This is a very real struggle that lots of people, especially those in high school, might face today. Bullies are quick to give out mocking names, but what are the consequences of that? Does the name have more power than the insults, spitballs and wedgies? I think it usually does. Do you want to tell the perspective of someone hurt by a nickname? Or of the bully who doesn’t really know what they’re doing?
You could play with titles vs names. Someone might be “King” but that’s a title, not a name. Maybe someone in a position of power feels like nobody knows who they really are—no one really calls them by their name. Or perhaps the opposite—maybe someone only wants to be known for their title, either because they want the power of it…or maybe they just don’t like their name. It makes me think of Dumbledore and Harry specifically calling Voldemort “Tom Riddle.” They use his name to disarm him, to refuse to give him the power the title grants him.
Especially when it comes to kings, names can be inherited. Does your character feel pressure in having the same name as their parent, or ancestor? Do they wish they had a different name? Or are they proud to share the name? Or maybe they are named after a particular historical figure—what power does this connection have over their life?
Surnames are always inherited, and perfectly worthy of this prompt. Perhaps you want to write about a family name, the responsibility or reputation that comes with it. Or perhaps the pride and familiarity that comes with it.
Sometimes a vicious-looking beast is given a silly name, such as Adam naming his hellhound “Dog,” or Hagrid naming his three-headed dog “Fluffy.” Perhaps you want to write about this phenomenon. Does this silly name have some power over the creature to make it more docile? There’s also the opposite, like a teacup poodle being called “Bruiser.” Can a name grant strength, or ferocity, to an otherwise docile creature?
A name also reflects upon the person giving the name. To Hagrid, monsters are indeed sweet, misunderstood creatures. He gave Fluffy that name because that’s exactly how he saw Fluffy…as a fluffy dog. Perhaps, instead of writing about the person with the name, you want to write about the person doing the naming. Maybe your character recognizes that names have power, and doesn’t want to mess up naming their child, or pet, or favorite stapler.
There’s also a scientific aspect to naming as well. Perhaps you want to write about a scientist who discovered a new species trying to decide on a name. Things in science often are named after the person who discovered it. Does this person get a big head? Or dislike being a namesake? I was reading about Dyson Spheres recently, and apparently Dyson did not like that they were named after him. Maybe you want to write about this. You could even write a funny story about a difficult to pronounce name, especially in a scientific environment.
There’s also a common principle “Don’t name it. If you name it you’ll get attached.” You could easily write about this angle. Maybe you want to write about a child forming a friendship with a stray animal, and indeed getting attached when they name it. Or even about a grumpy person who thinks they don’t want kids getting attached to an orphan they met.
Even inanimate objects can be named. Often when we name inanimate objects we anthropomorphize them and give them personality, simply because we gave them a name. This could be a very fun and cute thing to write about. Does an inanimate object come alive, simply because it was given a name?
In the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” the characters come to life in Charles Dickens’ mind only when he finds a name for them. He can have ideas, tropes, plotlines, but they only appear as a person when they have a name. In this way, you could go very meta with this prompt—what’s your experience as a writer naming your characters?
My challenge for this week is to use the word, or the idea of, “Fireworks” somewhere in the story. This is inspired by it being the week of Fourth of July for Americans. But not all of you (perhaps even most of you) aren’t from America, so I didn’t want to use the holiday as a prompt. Fireworks are a key, fun, summery aspect of the holiday that I think would be fun to work into our stories this week. You could write your story about fireworks, or simply mention them briefly. Whatever you want!
In case that’s too mired in the holiday, my other challenge for you is not to use the words “name” and/or “power” anywhere in your story. (You can pick one or do both). Yes, you heard me: write about the power of a name…all the while, not actually using the words “name” and/or “power” anywhere. Play around with subtlety. Make sure the prompt is still clear, of course—that’s very important. But don’t directly use the prompt—don’t even directly mention the pieces of the prompt!
Remember, these challenges aren’t mandatory! They are meant to be a fun bonus if you’d like to have a little extra challenge. But, if you don’t want to use them, please don’t feel obligated to!
Ah, I see. So that’s your name. Let me just add it to my collection—I mean memory!
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit! Get ready not just to share what you’ve got, but to give back to the other writers here as well.
Rules and Guidelines
We read at least five stories during each stream, two of which come from the public post, and three of which come from the much smaller private post. Submissions are randomly selected by a bot, but likes on your post will improve your chances of selection, so be sure to share your submission on social media!
Text and Formatting
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- Your piece must be between 250-350 words (you can use this website to see your wordcount).
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What to Submit
- Keep submissions “safe-for-work”; be sparing with sexuality, violence, and profanity.
- Try to focus on making your submission a single meaningful moment rather than an entire story.
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