A difficult matter

Tuppence, who shares her name with none of my characters (though was named after one of Agatha Christie's)

Tuppence, who shares her name with none of my characters (though was named after someone else’s)

Firstly, I’m pressing the ‘make available’ button on Speak Its Name a week today. Hurrah!

Secondly, there’s an interesting post over at Women and Words about naming characters. The naming of cats is, famously, a difficult matter. The naming of characters tends to be easier, though that doesn’t mean it’s not something that I think about a lot. It’s something I do a lot, naming characters. Sometimes I name a character again and again.

Some names stick. Lydia has always been Lydia and her mother has always been Judy. Peter and Colette could never have been anything else. I don’t know why. They just couldn’t.

Sometimes I have good plot-related reasons for naming characters certain things. When you know that Lydia’s sister is called Rachel you can infer a lot about their parents and their upbringing. Sometimes I have good plot-related reasons which never actually make it into the plot. Colette’s middle initial is R. It stands for Rosalind, after Franklin. I think that may be the first time I’ve ever typed the full name in this context – it certainly doesn’t make it into the final text – but having it in the back of my mind all the time that I was writing made a difference to the way I wrote Colette.

Minor characters are trickier. Sometimes I get overly attached to a particular letter. L, for example. Whether it’s because I’d started out with Lydia as non-negotiable and my mind got stuck on L, or it’s some troubled corner of my psyche that insists on giving my characters the major consonant sounds of my own name, I don’t know. But I’ve written out a Lily, a Hollie and a Lucy, and have had to remind myself severely that no, I can’t have a Lizzie, and I can’t really have an Elizabeth, either, because I’ve already got an Ellie. I could have had Beth, I suppose. Maybe there’ll be a Beth in the next book.

Another problem is a side-effect of a long writing time. Sometimes I’ve been working with a character name for years and then somebody with the same name comes into my life and it’s just too confusing. I’ve had to change three names in Speak Its Name for that reason. In one case I managed to give a character the exact same name as a senior member of staff in a future employer, which could have been awkward. It was a name I liked, too. Thank goodness for Find and Replace, that’s all I can say.

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a name except for the fact that it’s completely implausible for a character of a certain age at a certain date. Georgia, for example, started out as Gina. I like the name very much, or I wouldn’t have used it in the first place, but I’m not sure that anyone’s been christened Gina since about 1955.

The one thing that does strike me as I run through my dramatis personae is the number of names that match pets I’ve known over the years. William was a black labrador. Lydia was a tortoiseshell cat. Ollie is a black and white cat, and you could even make a case for Gin’ginia, though his real name was Marco Polo. The personalities don’t really correspond – except possibly in the case of William, who was stunningly immature and given to dragging people to places they weren’t very interested in going to. It must be something about a name that’s familiar enough to work with but which doesn’t have any particular human associations.

Having said that, I really can’t see myself naming a character Ebenezer, Elegy or Tuppence any time soon, despite the fact that all those names were borrowed from books in the first place. Or perhaps even because of it.

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