Friday, 19 July 2013

The Slushpile Silly Season - Who's the Daddy or the Mummy or Anyone Else for that Matter?

by Addy Farmer



The PG Wodehouse society will mark the centenary of the cricket match which saw the writer create the character after watching Percy Jeeves play for Warwickshire. Wodehouse had been thinking of naming his character Jevons before the match but changed his mind when he saw the young cricketer in action. His friend Conan Doyle, is thought to have named as many as 249 characters after cricketers.

That's a lot of cricketers and why not - they've got names like everyone else.

Listening to the Today programme (go to 2:56 and catch it) there was a tiny but fascinating interview with a man with a pipe in his mouth (he really did have) called Norman Murphy, the author of A Wodehouse Handbook. He talked about how Wodehouse named his most famous creations Jeeves and Wooster and it got me thinking about naming characters.

Jeeves and Wooster - how could they be called anything else?

Val McDermid, the crime writer, was also part of the interview and she gave her tips for character naming. She researches her character names and then googles them to make sure she's not liabling someone. She advocates:
  • looking in graveyards
  • fitting the name to social class and age  e.g Ethel would not suit your average teen nor Chardonnay your average pensioner
  • looking for local names
She did admit to naming one of her characters after a piece of cathedral architecture; a man called Undercroft which seemed to fit his role as a duty solicitor. To my mind, it also sounds a little Dickensian. Is there a technical term for the names which Dickens gives to his characters in order to denote the kind of character they are?

Scrooge - sounds like screw but worse
There are so many examples; Scrooge, Sweedlepipe, Honeythunder, Bumble, Pumblechook, Podsnap, Gradgrind and Pickwick all sound like the sort of person they are. So clever of Dickens to make them all up or did he ...relatively new work by Ruth Richardson has been reported in The Guardian :
Bill Sikes and Scrooge are among the most well-known characters in English literature but rather than being figments of Charles Dicken's imagination, their names were derived from real people. The thug from Oliver Twist, the miser in A Christmas Carol and the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, among others, have been linked to people who lived or worked near Dickens's first London home
So, not so unlike Wodehouse, Conan Doyle and McDiarmid and probably many others. It seems strange but who hasn't come across oddly satisfying names such as Ms De'ath, a registrar for births, marriages and deaths, Constable Lawless, the postman called Mr Stamp, an electrician named Ms Sparkes ... and so on. Turns out you may not have to look as far as you think to find a name which fits your character. Ah, that's what it's called:
aptronym" or "aptonym" (n.) = "A name that matches its owner's occupation or character, often in a humorous or ironic way." Cf. "aptronymic" or "aptonymic" (adj.).
But if you don't want all that faffy leg work, why not try a name generating site like fakenamegenerator or fantasynamegenerator or Peter Halasz' useful resource. The Writers Cheatsheet

So this is randomly generated me signing off ...

Lydia Duncan - a 59 year old sports professional (!) from London - nah or Gwenna Macgregor, a 22 year old dragon-hunter - close or  PHENOMENA FURY - that'll do
.

26 comments :

  1. Why haven't you blogged about this before? I've always had trouble with names...I named one of my sons by randomly flipping through a phonebook and find character naming a real challenge. Brilliant post - and fun too!

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    1. Oh and here's another great link -The Name Generator Writer's List http://m.voices.yahoo.com/the-name-generator-writers-list-serious-funny-859317.html from @rhivory

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    2. Thankyou! Never thought about it until I heard the thing on the radio and possibly because I don't have a problem naming characters;although now I'm beginning to think that I have a set of names that I use a bit too much ...

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  2. Great post. I am really alert to odd names now as I read news articles etc. Most of them actually make me think "you'd never get away with that in fiction" or "I wonder what kind of genre that would fit into". This morning's name was in a report about possible forest fires due to the hot weather in Scotland (and that's not a sentence I ever thought I'd wrire btw): they had a quote from someone called Heather Morning. Seems quite chicklitish? No?

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    1. Heather Morning is brilliant! I suspect I might flip through all this stuff and start finding stories to fit the names and that way madness lies.

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  3. I've frequently made use of the baby name finder websites, they give you name meanings and popularity as well.And for my current WIP, which is set locally, I trawled through names of local sports stars!

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    1. Baby name websites are an excellent source as well. Local sports stars ... Oscar?

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  4. I used www.behindthename.com which also gives meanings and names from different cultures and folklore. Loved finding names for a set of characters all with the meaning 'light'.

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  5. I've seen different types of name generators, but that is very handy - and fun. I used to work at a summer job typing up town histories, and copied down interesting names on pieces of paper and post-its. No idea what I did with them all!

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    1. Ack! It's so annoying to lose something interesting! But then it's good to know that historians will spend time puzzling over your strange obsession.

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  6. Thanks, Addy. I'm with Colleen. I love place names for characters. My mum and dad used to do it all the time when we were in the car: reading a place name and turning them into characters. And it changes loads depending on where you are in the country (the characters all sound dead posh when we're on our way to my mother in law's near Reading). I got Cinnamon Stitch from The Kite Princess from an advertisement that came through the door, which I misread as Cinnamon Stitch, then realised it was Cinnamon Aitch -so I nicked the name I misread it as (and the local company Cinnamon Aitch now has a copy of my book!). I got another main character name from taking our local bus into town and I passed the road 'Spooner Croft' which sounded perfect for my character. I LOVE choosing names. Thanks for this!

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    1. Thanks, Clare! These are fantastic names - you just know when they work, don't you? Reginald Scunthorpe doesn't work but Mayberley Lane does. Philip Reeves is really good at this slightly odd but still familiar character naming. I'm off to the Orkneys in a couple of weeks and I think I'll be on name overload.

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    2. Reginald Scunthorpe does work! He sounds brilliant. Can't you see him?

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  7. I LOVE making up names for my fantasy writing. I start by choosing a first letter that I haven't used yet, followed by a vowel, then a consonant that sounds right for the world and take it from their. They also have endings that sound male or female, or they relate to someone who's from elsewhere. Sometimes I spot names, on roadsigns, TV credits - surnames often make interesting first names. I could go on, but I've got a chapter to write!

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    1. Great ideas, Jackie! I feel a part two blog coming on...

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  8. Gill Hutchison19 July 2013 at 11:20

    Thanks Addy - this was fascinating.

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    1. Thanks, Gill. This was partly inspired by you when you said how much you disliked Dickensian names!

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    2. I love Dickensian names but my husband hates them. Mr Gradgrind is a fab name.

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  9. Very interesting post. I find I can't begin a story until I get the characters' names sorted out, and they have to be just right or I can't get on with the writing. And once they're named, it's like cutting off a limb if for whatever reason I have to rename one. I've just had to do this with someone in my wip and it has changed that character in odd ways - that the character in question is a small hairy pig doesn't seem to have made any difference.

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    1. Thanks, Pat. That's so interesting! So you have their back story and the plot or does that spring out of your named character? No-one wants their name changed by someone else - I suppose your character would have to demand the name change to make it okay.

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  10. The above post is from me!

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  11. I really enjoyed this - thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Anne - thanks for stopping by!

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