What’s in a name?
Well, plenty, I reckon. I love naming things, namely, the characters in my novels. And that’s what has been occupying me lately in my current novel. I have most of the major characters sorted, though the female protagonist took three goes to get right – hoorah for ‘Find and Replace’ on Word. I had a name in mind as I began, but it jarred as I read back over the first few chapters. I tried another name, but it didn’t feel right either, and finally this one evolved – one I’m sure I wouldn’t have come up with in the first place, but it feels absolutely right now.
In a way, characters name themselves, at least they certainly won’t be shoe-horned into a name that doesn’t suit them. When I was writing Almost Perfect, I could not settle on a name for Liam. I had a very long list but I just couldn’t decide. One day, a scene from later in the novel came to me, and I quickly scribbled it down – by the end he was Liam, and he couldn’t be called anything else after that.
I have an admission, I’ve always been obsessed with names. When I was a girl I wanted to have eighteen children – weird but true – and I think at least part of the reason was that I would get to choose so many names. I made long lists of monikers for those would-be children, giving them second, and sometimes third names. It was updated regularly as my tastes changed. I still have an extensive handwritten list – needless to say most of the names make me cringe now.
I only had four children in the end, and didn’t even give two of them middle names. So I have plenty of names to use up!
The names of my characters are very important to me: they have to go with the surnames, they have to fit with the other members of their family, they have to be true to the age of the person. And somehow they have to reflect, as best they can, the personality of that character. It really grates on me if names don’t seem right when I’m reading a novel. One thing (among many!) that really bothered me in the novel The Slap was that the names didn’t feel right. ‘Connie’ seemed a very odd choice for the seventeen-year-old daughter of hippies. And ‘Anouk’ was a white, thirtysomething, middle-class woman – the only explanation for her name is an offhand comment that her parents were francophiles, but then she has a sister called Tracey. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for giving her such an unusual name, and it irritated me throughout.
Maybe it’s just me? Are names in books important to you? Are there names that grate for you as well? Would the wrong names affect your enjoyment of a book? Or would a rose, regardless of its name, smell just fine to you?