What’s in a name?

Best Spiritual Fiction

The writing process is an interesting creature. When I started writing the rough draft of The Infinite Jeff, I was new to writing. I had an idea of what the story was but it was mostly stream of conscious and letting the story be what the story was. When it came to the point of naming characters, I stopped and thought. It seemed like naming the characters should be important, not just some random name. I would be using these names throughout the story and they should reflect the characters. No character names were coming to my head, but the story was driving my fingers to the keyboard. So, I put some temporary names down just so I could continue the story. After all, I could replace the names with a simple search and replace once the perfect name became obvious. I typed Stanley for the character looking for work, Jeff for the hitchhiker, and went on with the story. The story flowed like a river of words, wanting to find the ocean. I couldn’t stop it. I would find myself at the computer at 2 am, knowing I had to get up for work in the morning. Yet, I wasn’t at a stopping point and didn’t want to lose the story. So, I typed as fast as I could and forced myself to stop around 3 am.

For those of you who have read The Infinite Jeff, it is clear I never changed those names. After the names were there, after I typed them over and over, after they became real people living in my mind, they were Stanley and Jeff. Changing their names would have been like changing the names of my family or friends.

What is just as interesting is naming a book. It seems like a very important step in the writing process. Here I am, a new writer with a Word document open, typing as fast as my mind was pushing letters to my finger tips. Years of computer programming gifting me with a strong familiarity with a keyboard. Stanley and Jeff are now living a strange, interesting life in the Word document less than two feet from my face, it is 3 am, I have to get up for work in four hours, it is time to save this file. Click ‘Save File’ and there’s a box asking for a file name. I type in, ‘theinfinitejeff.docx’ and go to bed.

That was it. The characters became Stanley and Jeff and the story became The Infinite Jeff. I really never thought much about it. Then one Thanksgiving, I was talking to a nephew about the story and he laughed. He said he loved the name. His reaction seemed strange to me. Yeah, it was a fine name, I rather liked it, it fit the story very well, but I thought his reaction was too much for this simple name of a story he hadn’t even read.

I need to tell you, I love to read. I try to read as much as time and energy allow. (Side note: Writing as actually cut deeply into my reading. 🙁 ) I read mostly non-fiction or fiction with a strong message behind it. I also like science fiction a lot. Well, until that Thanksgiving, I had never heard of Infinite Jest. Since that day, I have heard a lot about it. Maybe I should have heard of it before, but I hadn’t. If I had, I wouldn’t have named my book the way I did. But I had, and the title fit very well with the book. I’m not sure if it will help or hurt but I hope David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) would have liked the name.

I will read Infinite Jest soon after part four of The Infinite Jeff is done. Sadly, David Foster Wallace suffered from depression and took his life in 2008. I would have like to have met him and laugh over the story about my title. He had a degree in Philosophy so, I think we would have had an interesting discussion.

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