Temporary Placeholder Names: Not a Good Idea

Cristin Milioti HIMYM Sebastian Shaw Return of the Jedi

Cristin Milioti from How I Met Your Mother and Sebastian Shaw from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Writing the first draft of my manuscript, I used about half a dozen placeholder names: boring character names and and way-too-descriptive place names.

I’m starting draft seven soon and, well, all these “temporary” names are still there. As you might’ve guessed, I’ve grown kind of attached to these names after having used them for so long. Still, I’m pretty sure I have to change them. Either that, or I can help a hundred agents stay on top of their eye-rolling exercises.

So, yup, temporary placeholders: (usually) not a good idea.

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14 thoughts on “Temporary Placeholder Names: Not a Good Idea

  1. I did the same thing. I had names when I started writing, and they were very cliche for my characters. When I decided I was going to change the names, I shorted the original names to initials (mainly because I was lazy to keep writing a name I wasn’t going to use anymore) while I thought up new names. I still have a couple placeholder names for very insignificant characters, but I’ve now tried to put a proper name in immediately.

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  2. I always google search baby names…. That’s how I found the name for my protagonist in my novel coming out! Although she was meant to be in a different story of mine, but the name fit in this one so much better… I’d like to see what names you chose!

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    • Same here. I use babynames.com as a start to make sure my names don’t mean anything that’s totally off the mark for that character. The names I’m sorting out now are mostly place names and names of a few supporting characters. I might end up with some slightly better, but still temporary, names for this next draft.

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  3. Instead of using a filler name prior to the official name, I use notation markings to make a spot where the character’s name will go – but I don’t bother naming them anything beyond that. Usually this is [x] or ****, something like that, any symbol can do. This way that “getting attached to the first name” is avoided, though it is so hard to decide on names sometimes! I do this for places and other kinds of names too.
    I usually set aside two or three whole days to focus solely on names before moving forward with the manuscript. Mainly because lately I’ve been wanting to keep the naming conventions of the cast consistent with the world-lore, which means a lot of checking and deciding.

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    • That’s a good way to avoid the unnecessary attachment to the not-so-good names. I don’t think I could stand seeing those asterisks or brackets for very long though. I’d just have to stop and think of a name. Haha.

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    • I do the same thing. I don’t like to leave it that way for long, either, but if I really need to I’ll give myself permission to research/create the name AFTER I’ve finished my writing for the day. That way I don’t mire myself in name debate.

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