Picking the perfect moniker: How to name your characters and more

People often ask me, “But what’s your real name?” Sometimes, the question comes from seeing my name in print, then meeting me in person and discovering I’m female. And sometimes, the question comes when they’ve gotten to know me a little and discover I legally changed my name in 2000. So for the record…

My real name Johnnie J. Mazzocco.

It’s the realest name I’ve ever had.
And I’ve had SEVERAL.

There’s the name I was born with, which consisted of the first and middle names my parents settled on and my dad’s surname. Then, there’s the name that consisted of the first and middle names my parents settled on and the surname of my first husband – Martin. And then, there’s the name that consisted of the first and middle name my parents settled on, my dad’s surname, and the surname of my second husband – Owen.

Johnnie J. Mazzocco isn’t the name I was born with, but it WAS the name my mom wanted me to have – at least the first name. She wanted to name me after her dad, John, but my dad nixed that. He thought I’d think I wasn’t wanted. He thought I’d think they wanted a boy instead. So, they gave me a “girl’s” name.

I spent the first three decades of my life knowing that Johnnie was supposed to be my name, and after many significant life changes, the Fall before I turned 40, I changed my name. I had been toying with the idea, and my close friends were helping me out by trying it on for size. When I talked with the person who would eventually be the head of my graduate committee for my first Master’s degree, I introduced myself as Johnnie. When it came time to apply, I had to make it legal to fill out the paperwork.

I decided I might as well go all in. I didn’t want my maiden name. Nor did I want either of my married names. None of them felt like me. In fact, whenever I introduced myself with the old name, it felt cardboard-dry in my throat.

I opted to use the first letter of my old middle name and forego a full middle name and to take on my mom’s maiden name because I’ve always strongly identified with my Italian lineage. It wasn’t until the day I was signing the papers to make it legal that I realized I have my grandpa’s full name: Johnnie Mazzocco. (His legal name was John, but my grandma called him Johnny.)

Changing my name has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I don’t share my “old” name with people, even though they ask.

I changed my name for a reason. It wasn’t a hideous name.

It just wasn’t me.

Whether you’re a parent or a pet owner, you know the task of naming another being is not an easy one. Many of us consult baby name books or get inspiration from our favorite pop culture icons or fictional characters. Some of us explore the latin roots of names, or we opt for the name of someone we know and respect. Whichever route we take, most of us know it’s an identity creator, so we take it seriously.

What about when we name our fictional characters? Finding the perfect moniker can be daunting and time-consuming, but giving it the time and attention it deserves, a memorable name can become a lasting icons in the worlds of literature and pop culture. Scarlett O’Hara. Atticus and Scout Finch. Dorothy Gale. Harry Potter. Holly Golightly. Lolita. Clarissa Dalloway. Lennie Small. Sherlock Holmes. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Mary Poppins. Nancy Drew. And on and on and on…

Here are a few articles with ideas about how to find just the right names for all your characters.

The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters
6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters
How to Name Your Characters
How to Choose Character Names

Whether we’re name our kids, our pets, our characters, or ourselves, picking the perfect name is an important proposition. When this weighty task is in your hands, how do you handle it?

How do you name your characters? 

And if you were to re-name yourself, who would you be?





Writer as Shaman: 7 Ways Stories Will Change Your Life and Heal the World

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro from Pexels

Twenty-five years ago, I started writing a novel, and the process of developing the main character and her story world created a crack in my psyche and changed my life forever. I was taken through my own dark night of the soul, which led – gratefully – to my spiritual transformation. Since then, I have been on a spiritual path, have viewed my creative writing practice as a spiritual practice, and have devoted myself and my life to embracing the power of story.

While writers have probably always had an innate sense that stories heal, science has proven the benefits of story in our lives – in both the writing and reading of fiction and non-fiction. Stories are a human need. We crave them. We tell them. Every day. Stories are not only healing to the writer. They carry the power to heal readers and the world at large, as well.

For the Writer

1 – Evoking your imagination while writing a story can lead to improved brain capacity and ease of being in the world.

  • Using your imagination can improve your problem-solving skills. By troubleshooting a character’s obstacles as she attempts to attain her primary desire, you can become more creative in troubleshooting and solving your own.
  • Using your imagination can improve your memory. Engaging your imagination creates more neurons in your brain, which leads to better brain function and retaining information.
  • Using your imagination can improve your relationships and social interactions. By empathizing with your characters’ problems, you’ll become more aware of the day-to-day struggles of your fellow humans, thus allowing you to be more empathetic in general.

2 – Using the process of amalgamation, which is the act of consciously or unconsciously blending real-life people and events with imaginary people and events for the sake of storytelling, allows us to resolve events from the past.

  • Recounting stories from our personal past can help us make meaning of what was. By remembering a past event from an older, more experienced – or simply different – perspective can give us a sense of personal power.
  • Creating a re-telling of a past event and imagining what could have been can also give us a sense of personal power. This is not about denying reality or naively wishing a situation had been different, but more about reframing the story to achieve a sense of redemption or inner harmony.
  • Using creative license to write about anything from a past personal event to a current cultural phenomenon and creating a fictional story with a positive outcome can give us hope. There is something immensely powerful in being able to imagine a world where change and growth are possible. Believing in a better world and doing what we can to create it helps us find peace in the moment while continuing to put one foot in front of the other with a sense of personal agency toward the project of human evolution.

3 – Through the process of deep character development, we come to understand ourselves on a much deeper level. By creating characters who come off the page and behave like real people rather than flat, cardboard caricatures or stereotypes and getting beneath their skins to examine their true motivations, pains, and fears, we can’t help but do this better for ourselves. Thus, writing stories leads to greater self-awareness and advances us along our paths of personal evolution.

For the Reader

4 – Reading stories gives us a healthy escape from everyday life. Whether we read a memoir about someone’s experience growing up in a small rural community or a fantasy novel about a young woman with superpowers, the descriptions that build the story world evoke our imaginations and bring us the same benefits realized by the writer mentioned above. As Stephen King once wrote, “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Reading stories quiets our minds, much the same way meditation does.

5 – Reading stories – in particular, literature – leads to greater levels of empathy. By riding along beside a character through the ups and downs of his quest to achieve his goal and through the mistakes he makes along the way, we become softened to the struggle of what it means to be human, which allows us to more readily accept and embrace struggle and imperfection in others.

6 – Reading stories can lead to greater human connection. When a reader witnesses an experience like their own, they know they’re not alone in the world, that their life isn’t as taboo as they may think or feel, and through this, they can experience validation, and ultimately, a feeling of connection.

For the World

7 – When writers and readers experience the benefits of story, it up-levels their positive presence in the world. Writing and reading both bring numerous benefits, probably the most far-reaching of which is a greater understanding of the human condition. This understanding can elicit more compassion, more empathy, and ultimately, more peace in the world.

English writer, Alan Moore, known for Watchmen and V for Vendetta, among many others, believes writers are modern day shamans. He describes the magic they work as the alchemical process of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to create story worlds into which readers can enter and experience changes in consciousness.

This journey into story worlds – ours and others’ – allow us to clear our minds. It serves as a salve to our hearts and an elixir to our spirits and souls. If you’re looking for creative ways to further your evolution as a human on earth in this lifetime, embrace the power of story. Write your stories. Share them. And read the stories of others.

We all have stories to tell. What’s yours?

Perspective + POV: How you look at things changes how you look at things

This past weekend, I headed out to the Oregon Coast for a business retreat with a group of phenomenal visionary business builders. We stayed together in a house right across the road from the beach; we savored sumptuous food prepared by our uber-talented, in-house chef, Zach; we cavorted (for real… we danced around); we shared our brilliance with each other through short presentations; we set goals.

When I hit the road to make the two-plus-hour trip with my friend, Krista, I was prepared to hunker down and work (the transition from summer to fall does that to me), and I went with the idea that I’d make the best of sharing a house with 11 other people (we introverts loooove our alone time).

My perspective took a turn after the first day, partially due to witnessing the genius of my fellow council members (and getting to know them better as people) and partially due to the skill with which Michael, our fearless leader, was able to go with the flow and adapt to what transpired. And part of it was also me simply deciding to change my perspective, dive in, and be present.

This came in the literal sense when we did an impromptu group polar plunge into the cold ocean waves right at the moment summer shifted to fall. Symbolic and exhilarating, for sure. This act woke up my adventurous spirit, which led me to do something I’ve dreamed of for a long, long time… I did stand-up comedy. It was short, and I had the best crowd possible… The set up with bright lights and a live mic made me feel legit. And I know I’ll do it again… with a longer bit and to a larger crowd of people I don’t know at all. And I woke up even more.

The point of all this is that perspective is malleable like clay. It can shift without warning, spurred by some external force or situation, or we can make a conscious choice to shift our perspective on our own. Our view of ourselves, other people, situations within and out of our control, and life in general, shapes our days and our lives.

Perspective also shapes the lives of our characters and their stories; and it applies to the angle from which we approach a scene, to the Point of View we use to tell a story, and to the way we think about our writing.

Here’s a POV writing tip

 Think about how scenes in movies are shot –
long shots (LS), medium shots (MS), close-ups (CU), extreme close-ups (XCU).

Each one creates a different emotional experience for the viewer and determines the distance between the viewer and the character.

The same is true when writing for the page.

Try these exercises

First, write and rewrite a few scenes using the LS, MS, CU, and XCU approach.
Notice how the tone and mood change.

Next, if you aren’t sure which POV to use in your story, play around with giving everyone a shot at having the stage or being the focus of the “lens” and see what happens.

So often people don’t want to “waste time” doing exercises, but sometimes those exercises lead to the jewel your story’s been missing. Give it a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Sending you mad writing mojo…


Author Interview – Lori Eberly

What compelled you to write your most recent book?
I’ve had good success with clients over the years and wanted to draft a how-to of sorts. I was also eager for the collaborative process of writing with someone I greatly admire and respect. It felt like a valuable experience to focus what has worked and what I’ve learned.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
Discipline and focus… until we got into a good routine. It helped to have a partner to hold me accountable. Rejection… couldn’t find an agent to pick it up.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
It forced me to distill what I know. It gave me a platform to promote myself and my work. It is a great source of pride, to have completed a product that is not only my best work but collective work.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
We sent out about 50 proposals. We only got about 10 formal rejections… the others didn’t respond. We ended up self-publishing through Amazon. It’s convenient and they walked us through the process, good cost, etc. The problem is that many independent booksellers refuse to carry books published by The Devil.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
Yes, journalists, bloggers, “on the side” writers. My biggest influencers are the other authors and writers I read.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
Not anymore… but we wrote 5 days a week, for large blocks of time pre-publishing. It was a full-time job for 2 years.

Do you have other books in progress?
No. But wish I wrote more articles.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
I’d have more of a jumbled mess in my brain. I guess I’d have to invent some other way to process and integrate my thoughts.

Why do you write?
Because it’s fun. Because I want to connect with others. Because it helps me think and make sense of the world. It’s satisfying. It’s challenging.

Lori Eberly is the founder of Radius ECD and the author of F*ckery, a book about trust-damaging habits. She got her Masters of Social Work in 2000, but the real learning came from a decade in hospice and a zig-zag coaching career around the globe. Her keen insight and Socratic approach connect people to their goals and to each other. Lori lives in Portland when she’s not touring the northwest in her Westfalia.

To learn more about Lori, please visit her website.

How understanding the crown chakra will improve your writing

Believe it or not, your characters’ spiritual lives have a big impact on their stories, whether that’s part of the plotline or not. Just as with we humans, our characters have spiritual beliefs – or not – that inform their motivations and decisions in life. In religion, this is called the eschatology of a belief system: what we think happens to us when we die, whether or not we believe in karma, how we view humanity’s purpose in this life, or whether we believe in past lives.

Even if we don’t embrace any of these beliefs, the fact that we don’t also influences our day-to-day motivations and decisions.

It’s easy to by-pass this part of our characters’ development, but it’s essential, I think. Whether your character is a mystic or an atheist, a Buddhist or a Baptist, their belief system – or lack thereof – has everything to do with their movement through life and their story world.

After you’ve gotten clear about a character’s inner world, as we do when using the Third Eye Chakra, go one step further and think about the character’s connection (or not) to a higher power. This higher power can be anything – even their own sense of inner wisdom. Or their meditation practice. Or their love of literature. Their daily hike. Or their daily cocktail. It doesn’t have to be overtly religious or spiritual.

Understanding our characters to this degree can help us portray their complexities in deeply moving and complex ways. And this is the very quality our stories need to have if we want them to stay with readers long after they’ve put our work down.

What is the source of your character’s higher power, and how does it inform her/his way of moving in the world?