Sunday, 21 February 2010

Character Examples 3- Names

The names we give our characters define so much about them, and I generally like to get just the right name for mine where I can. There are all sorts of different naming approaches, so I thought I'd take a look at a few of the names I've given characters to see how they work:

Single names. I'm a big fan of this. A full name gives someone a sense of reality, but sometimes that's not what you want. A single name can reflect on the archetypal nature of the character, or on disconnection from the real world, or simply on a situation where full names don't matter too much. In 'Fishing for Worlds' for example, I can't imagine that Timothy having a second name would work at all. In my comic fantasy novels, it creates a disconnection between otherworldly characters like Grave and more normal ones.

How posh? I'm a fan of the posh character with the double barrelled name, such as Cynthia Williams-Frothes, probably better known to those who've read any of my Receipt for a Dragon story as Spider. Contrast that with the story's hero Brian Northington. That's a name that went to its local comprehensive school if ever there was one. My usual tactic with names like that is to combine a fairly straightforward first name with a surname that sounds like it could be a vaguely northern placename.

Something the Something. The classic fantasy combination. As such, mostly one I use when making fun of that sort of thing, and so the second something is likely to be silly. A wizard of mine known as Gregor the Slightly (short for Gregor the slightly less green than Gregor the green) is a good example.

Silly or pun based names. I try to use these rarely, because they can give away too much about the character in one go. Still, one currently unpleasant character has the surname Wittingly-Snide.

Names and age. Some names just sound older than others. Take two characters from my novel Searching, in the form of Brigit Wykeham (an obscure reference to a famous pluralist canon in the surname, if you're interested) and Tina. Now, which of those names sounds like it might be several centuries old? Or take Timothy above. I think the name is about right for the age. Certainly, I can't think he would have come across quite the same if he'd been called Frank, for example.

Nicknames, abbreviations and initials. These can be used to create a disconnect between who the character is officially and how they like to see themselves. Take Spider, above. That is clearly the sort of nickname you give yourself when your mother insists on calling you Cynthia at all times. Abbreviations do the same sort of thing, though possibly more subtly. Curiously, initials don't. Instead, I find them useful for a sense of formality, or when mentioning the authors of made up books with big leather bound editions (because those authors are invariably people whose parents, to use Gideon Haigh's phrase 'gave them initials rather than proper names'). They're also useful for setting up overblown names later. P.E.Straggle just about works. Philip Edgemonton Straggle is pushing things.

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