What’s in a name?

Well, plenty, I reckon. I’m stuck for a name for this blog, though. I’m thinking it’s probably going to remain ‘dianneblacklock’ so you’ll still be able to find it. I have at least changed the tagline. Must get around to decorating next week …

Names of blogs aside, 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 Slap was that the names didn’t feel right. ‘Connie’ was 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 as I remember 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?

PS: Thanks for all your lovely comments and feedback on my first blog! So encouraging xx

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7 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Names are very important and as an avid reader (as you well know), it often helps to conjure up what the character would look like in real life. I mean when I read the first Harry Potter book I had in my mind what the characters looked like and was very happy to see that most of what I had thought ended up in the film 🙂 ….
    Almost counting down the days till your new book is available 🙂

    • I think they did an excellent job with the characters in the Harry Potter films – but the director of a film is not always going to have the same vision as you. And you’re not even going to have the same vision as the author! But I agree, I tend to think the name is more important than over-describing – let the reader come up with the picture in their head themselves, and the right name will give a much greater sense of the type of character you’re trying to create.

  2. You’re so right, Dianne. If a name doesn’t feel right, it grates all the way through.

    The same can be said for the language (eg sentence structure, idioms). After recently reading ‘Caleb’s Crossing’ by Geraldine Brooks, I started reading another novel set in the same period. The language lacked the authenticity of Brooks’ work, so I’m finding it a little more difficult to read.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    • Absolutely Desolie! The style of language throughout is most important, names are simply a part of that. I think it’s a testament to Geraldine Brooks’s writing that she can so effectively recreate other times and other places – less accomplished writers probably shouldn’t try!

  3. Pingback: Aussie Author Interview with Dianne Blacklock |

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