Saturday, January 20, 2007

More on names

...including the ever-popular How Can I Fit My Cats Into This Conversation game. Well, how, you ask? By telling you that Spike's name was cause for some serious thought. He's only the second male pet I've ever had (two female dogs and three female cats preceded him and Sugar). The first, my darling Tinker, was quite simply the gayest cat in existence. He was beautiful, dapper, and effeminate, and I've no doubt that this was due in no small part to the fact that when we got him and his sister, Willow, we thought we had two girls, and christened him Tinkerbell (I was six, okay?). By the time we discovered our little fairy was actually a boy, and shortened his name to Tinker, the damage was already done. For the last few years, I called him Tinkerbell. He minced.

Consequently, when we acquired Fluff & Fluffier, I was determined to give my boy cat a butch name. I'll make a man of this one, I decided. I'm not going to gay him up. So I called him Spike. Spike. Like the dog in Tom & Jerry, or the henchman in Storm Front, or yes, even my favourite vampire. It's a good manly name, is Spike.

Unfortunately, then my gorgeous boy turned out to be heartbreakingly pretty and has spent most of his ten months being cuddled and pampered. As a result, he's turned into a total mummy's boy who, last night, allowed a strange black and white cat into the house. Twice. While his mummy chased the bugger out, Spike hid under the kitchen table.

But then again, Spike the vampire was a mummy's boy too. Maybe I'll call my next cat Pansy and just have done with it...

Anyway. Names, as I said earlier in the week, are important. The naming of a character is a difficult matter and I know I'm not alone in saying it's sometimes hard to write a character if they don't have the right name. Sometimes the name pops up with the character, fully-formed--Luke Sharpe, for instance, turned up in my head without any name changes. So did Chance in Almost Human, although I do remember that when I first created her father, it took me bloody ages to come up with Striker. Now, of course, I can't think of him being called anything else. It's the same with Sophie. She actually started out life as a Sally, but that never quite suited her and it wasn't until she got her new name that I could really write her.

Her surname, however, was something of an accident. Sophie Green. I really just wanted a name that was ordinary, easy to spell, and wouldn't make anyone look twice. Only later did I realise quite how appropriate it was: Sophie's as green as can be. Luke, on the other hand, didn't end up with his surname by accident (quite apart from the fact that it's damn funny to say out loud). I wanted a name that fitted him as a character: sharp-eyed, sharp-minded, sharp-shooter. He's even a sharp dresser. There's nothing soft and fuzzy about Luke--well, not until you know him better.

I have been known to name characters deliberately using words that fit them as people. I have a work-in-progress with a character named Harker. Say it out loud: it's a harsh, sharp word; an onomatopaeic name (did I spell that right?), for a man who doesn't have much space in his life for softness. Similarly, when I came across Dare as an abbreviation of Darien, I knew I had to use it for the devil-may-care hero of She Who Dares (yes, the title came later).

It's a trick a lot of worthies have used. Dickens famously gave his characters outrageous names which perfectly suited them. Look at Bill Sykes: he was a psycho. And William Makepeace Thackery did it to perfection in Vanity Fair with another Sharp, this one Becky; the steadfast Dobbin; the odious Sir Pitt Crawley. In more modern times, the great Pratchett has given us Sam Vimes, a grubby, disreputable name; and Bernard Cornwell his eponymous Richard Sharpe (see, it's a good ol' name, isn't it?).

Incidentally, I read the other day that there's a high ioncidence of people taking on jobs which resemble their names. Geographers called Geoffrey, and dentists called Denise, that sort of thing. I guess this means I should be living in a wait, I practically do...

What other examples of clever naming do you know? And do you know any characters who've been terribly badly named?

1 comment:

  1. First, Spike is adorable. My first cat, Cleo, had the same mismatched eyes with her snow white body...He brings a smile to my face in memory, so thank you for sharing.

    Second, Names...I am ALL about names. I can't get moving on a story until the characters names show up. They usually mean something, if only to ME. Sometimes they're obvious to my reader, at others...not so obvious. I've been known to stop in the middle of a frantic writing pace to suddenly flip out over the fact I've had a new characters show up and I need a NAME. Thus ensues the name tossing in the home office between Cat and myself until a suitable one is found and I can continue on said frantic pace.

    I've researched my name. I crafted my call name. I've been given a few I choose to ignore *wink*

    I'm glad I'm not the only one with such a focus on names.

    Or a passion for our familiars!