Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What's in a name?

Plenty actually.
I'm talking about the names we invent for our characters. As I am going to spend a fair bit of time with them, getting the name right for both story, genre and character is vitally important especially if it is going to work as a whole.
I read a short story once where the main hero was called Rad Stangler. A horrible name, awful. The story wasn't much better but the name stuck with me, and much to my chagrin it still tickles me.

So how do we choose names? I have a variety of 'name' books, but I have to say that I very rarely use them. When choosing the name for my main protagonist in 'Coven of One' I can honestly say that the name 'Dorcas' came in the same instant as the story took shape in my mind (as much as it ever does at the beginning). Her name was synonymous with the 'era' that I was aiming for and seemed to sum up the sensibly booted witch that I wanted to portray. Other names leapt from the obits in local papers and it was easy to couple them up with already well known Cornish monikers. Cornwall is awash with surnames that begin with 'Tre', 'Pen' and 'Pol', and has a multitude of delightfully unusual first names. The only one I didn't manage to squeeze in was 'Loveday' (pronounced Luvdie), but whose to say it won't appear somewhere!

I adore the process of finding names for my writing. I carry lists of possibilities around with me, making note of any that I take a fancy to. Funny really, when choosing the names of the feckers we only managed to find two that we both liked!


Anonymous said...

Names can also change over time. I went to high school with a guy named Butch who eventually married Gaye his girlfriend. Not names I would use today.

In the states they use the name Johnson or Johnston to describe a part of a man's anatomy. Here in Canada we understand the slang but don't use it as they do. So you will understand when a Canadian has a character in his book called Harry Johnson that the US reader may smirk a little.

Sharon J said...

Bloody blogger's playing up again. If I won't let me comment this time I'm going to scream so loud that they'll hear me in the Google offices in Cali-bloody-fornia or wherever they sodding well are!

Here goes:

I love finding names for characters too, although when my youngest was born I didn't have a girl's name ready and just threw the first one I thought of at her. She's quite upset to think that I put more into finding character names than I did in finding hers. Call me 'bad mum'.

S. Kearney said...

It's very clear you're a person big on names ... Dorcas' bunch was just the bee's knees for me. Did I spot Cailleach in there as well? And Tatiana? Mmmmmm. Local inspirations or just coincidence? Beautiful names all round, which spoke volumes about the characters even before we met them.

Unknown said...

Cornwall is a veritable feast of names - Morwenna, Demelza, Jago, Jowan and Merryn are all time defying names which made life easy when calling up suitable ones for the book.
If Dorcas was called 'Mary Lou' she would hardly have been the strong character I wanted her to be.
Origins of names also fascinate me and incidentally 'Dorcas' is a Greek name but the biblical translation is the very witchy 'Tabitha'.

Debi said...

So identify with this! @til the name comes, the character can't quite grow. We have big family discussions re suitable names for my characters and always know when we hit the right one.

BTW - how weird is this - started reading Skint's short stories yesterday. He has a character called Mickey Two Shoes. I have a character by the same name in De Nada Nirvana - written long before I met any of you ...

Unknown said...

This is interesting Debi - I have never discussed names with the family and have often found it kind of weird when other people have referred to them after reading the book. I am used to it now, but am still amazed when my characters are talked about as if they really existed.