Wednesday, June 14, 2006

NAMES...

I’ve just started work on a new book. It’s going to be part of a trilogy written with two of my favourites authors, one in America, one in Australia and I’m really, really excited about it. The opening scene is written, I’ve outlined to somewhere around Chapter 5 and things generally were going rather well. Then I decided I hated the name I’d given my hero. And the one I’ve given the heroine’s sister doesn’t fit. And then, although I keep a record of main characters names and check to make sure I haven’t repeated any – it doesn’t always work – I suddenly realised why Grafton sounded so familiar. Sebastian Wolseley, hero of The Marriage Miracle, was Viscount Grafton. Back to the drawing board...

I find this sooo hard. It’s not just finding the perfect name to match a character, his background, that I haven’t already used. It’s the unknowables that make it such a treacherous game; suppose I choose the same name as some buffoon or sleaze-ball character in a show I’ve never seen? Or pick one of those names that I guess every country has; the kind used as an adjective to describe a certain kind of person – not usually as a compliment. (No, I’m not stupid enough to give examples!)


Names are evocative. My mother, for instance, never met an Eric she didn’t like. She even married one. For her it was a name that could do no wrong. (Didn't she have great taste!)

And that’s the problem. Names produce a reaction in the reader, set up preconceived notions – national as well as personal. I can judge, fairly well, what kind of response name will receive from the British reader, but I’m writing for an international market. Translators can and do often change them – presumably because of this very issue -- but the English speaking market just get a different cover on the same book. So how will Benedict be received in the mid-West? As the son of intellectual parents, or will he just be viewed by the browsing book-buyer as some poncy Englishman and rejected out of hand without a second thought? Has Harry had his day? Is Kim perceived as masculine or feminine? Have flower names gone to seed?

I’ve recently read the lovely Susan Elizabeth Phillips MATCH ME IF YOU CAN, adored it, but the thing that sticks in my mind is that she gave the name Trevor to a baby.

Is this a “cute” name in the US? One whose time has come in the name fashion stakes? Like Harry, Jack and Arthur in the UK? Part of that struggle of parents to find a name that not every other kid on the block will be answering to? Or, because of her much-deserved popularity, will it be resurrected from cardigan-and-slipper wearing middle-age and become the next year’s favourite?

Okay, I'm putting off yet another trawl through the lists of baby names in search of something that will project exactly the right impression of this man who is about to occupy the next three months of my life. I will not hold my breath...

18 comments:

Margaret McDonagh said...

A fascinating post, Liz, and so, so true. As a reader I sometimes come across books which, however wonderfully-written, I find hard to get into because one of the main characters has a name that grates on me. It may be the name of the girl who bullied me at school or a nasty ex-boss I had. Silly, but those kinds of associations do play on the mind even years later. The same, in a lovely and positive way, as for your mother with Eric.

As I writer I also suffer the naming problem. The name might be fabulous but just somehow doesn't seem to fit the character who is forming more and more in my head. Sometimes I even begin writing, find it a struggle and something as simple as a change of name for one main character makes all the difference because before it just wasn't right.

I hope your name struggle is short and you are soon lost and away in your new book. The trilogy sounds very exciting!

Love,
Mags

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

I struggle with names almost as much as titles. My current heroine had to change from being 'Chloe' and became 'Kate' - all because of a nasty memory my dd has of somebody with the former name.

(I'm currently reading 'The Five-Year Baby Secret', and I love the name 'Fleur').

I hope you come up with a name for your hero soon.

Nell Dixon said...

I struggle with surnames more than first names.

Liz Fielding said...

Nell, I've got an really old (coverless in fact) Penguin dictionary of surnames, which is great. But the index of a British road map, or gazeteer, is another great resource.

The real problem is that there are so few men's names beginning with that perfect J -- and I've used them all, some of them more than once. The fact that my present hero is an ice-cold male with his family roots in the Doomsday Book limits the choices even more.

Kate Hardy said...

There used to be a really, really good website on names called Eponym. I tried to find it again last year and it had vanished. I think I might have the Penguin one, and a few others.

Could be worse. If you were writing historicals of a certain era, all the men would be John or Richard or Henry, and all the women would be Margaret or Mary or Elizabeth...

Js. Ice-cold, English. Hmm. Jack, Jacob, Jago (Cornish/Welsh), Jake, James, Jared, Jeremy, Jethro (I dare you *g*), Joe, John, Jordan, Josh, Joss, Julian, Justin.

I can think of some other Js (Joachim, Jefferson etc) but they're more... well... Hebrew/Spanish or US.

No, I'm not procrastinating. Much. :o)

PS Sue - not all Chloes are horrible. Mine's a sweetie tonight (but I admit she was a monster the night before last).

Sharon J said...

I think just about everybody has this problem with names. Certainly those I've spoken to do, anyway. My hero's name had to be changed in my last story, although not because I didn't like it. It was the man himself who insisted that he was not a Dan. So far I'm getting on ok with the names I've chosen for the current story but probably, now that I've said that... tempting fate, y'know!

Funnily enough, it was the heroine's dog that gave me the most trouble this time. I just couldn't find the right breed or name for him. He's been a JR called Smudge, a Poodle called Princess, a Collie cross called Herman and, for a while, was a parrot called Peanut. He's now a GSD called Hugo.

Good luck with your hero's name. I quite like Joseph/Joe as a J name.

Liz Fielding said...

Mmm, thanks, Pam. I have used nearly all those -- the ones that I feel an uppercrust Englishman might have been given by his very conservative parents, anyway. Joss, though... I like that. It's short without sounding matey, which just wouldn't be right.

Animals are always such a problem for me, Sharon. I don't have trouble with names for them, just remembering to keep them walking through the page occasionally unless they're real characters. I've already got a cast of thousands so I think I'll be giving the dog/cat/parrot/hamster thing a miss in this one!

Sharon J said...

Liz. Just thought I'd mention that Joss does have female associations at the moment because of Joss Stone's success. Something to think about, perhaps?

Liz Fielding said...

And if I ask who Joss Stone might be, will everyone hurl rocks?
--g--

Sharon J said...

I won't throw rocks, just tiny pieces of gravel.

Seriously, she's a 17-year-old soul singer who's really big at the moment. Here's a link to her website. http://www.jossstone.co.uk/

Liz Fielding said...

I'm resisting a visit to the website, Sharon. My original choice was Ivo, but I rather like Joss; I don't want anything to put me off!

Nell Dixon said...

My current hero in Dangerous to know is Jerome. I don't mind if you borrow his name, lol.

Phillipa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phillipa said...

Names are tricky.. I picked Jack for the current wip only to find 3 LBD's with the same name. But he IS Jack now and I haven't the heart to change him.

BTW Liz - I'm looking for a nice, sexy pronounceable Welsh hero's name, not too cliched but very masculine. Any ideas?

PS sorry about the posting glitch above. I'm a novice blogger!

Liz Fielding said...

I've already used Jack twice, once in an M&B, once in a Scarlet. It seems to have replaced Adam as the "hero" name!

Welsh names? How about Rhys, Rhodri, Penry (ap Henry)?

Phillipa said...

Like Rupert Penry Jones?

Yum....

Liz Fielding said...

Yes, I like him -- not as much as Matthew McFadyen, but definitely fanciable. -- g --

2paw said...

Oh, a trilogy with an Australian and an American??? See, I'm all overwhelmed by the whole trilogy things and the name part has passed me by entirely!! Well, almost!! I do notice that names we consider here in Australia officially 'daggy' are seemingly popular overseas. It makes for very funny reading as a hero called Wayne or Kevin just can't be taken seriously!!!