Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What's in a name?

Yes, an over-used quotation. And is it even true to say 'that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet’? Would Romeo and Juliet’s story have the same impact if they’d been called Ron and Mabel? Would Margaret Mitchell’s heroine be so memorable if she’d kept her original name, Pansy O’Hara? Would Archie Leach and Maurice Micklewhite have been so successful if they hadn’t changed their names?

I’m thinking about this because I’m trying to decide on a surname for a character. This character’s surname is only mentioned once, not long after he’s introduced, just so the reader knows what it is. The setting is contemporary, and he’s never in a situation when his surname would be used. But he’s a major character; he ought to have a full name.

I don’t know why I’m struggling with this. I only want an ordinary name of one or two syllables that goes with his first name and isn’t too similar to any of the other characters’ names.

Sometimes I have trouble finding a name because I’m not yet ‘seeing’ the character clearly, but that’s not the case this time.

Sometimes, as I’m writing, I find that the name I originally chose doesn’t fit the character as he or she develops, and I have to change it.

The name has to fit the character. But a child’s name is chosen by its parents, so the name must reflect their personalities too. Amaryllis Jacinta Marigold might be the perfect name for a spirited red haired heroine. But if her parents are supposed to be very staid, unimaginative people, wouldn’t Ann or Jane be more likely?

And as for some of the unsuitable names given to characters in historical fiction - that’s a whole other post!

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