Friday, 23 September 2011

What's In A Name?

So folks, how do you like the new look of the blog? Someone finally piped up and told me that the colour scheme was hard on the eyes, so hopefully this one will be a bit more comfortable.
At some point I want to try and incorporate the photo of my desk and typewriter into my banner, I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Today I want to discuss names.

Choosing names for characters is a hugely important task, but as I'm currently finding out, sometimes the name you give a character won't be the right one for them once they've had a chance to grow into themselves.

Names inevitably give readers some clue's as to a characters personality, as well as background. How do these characters sound?
 - Jane/Nettle Johnson
 - Captain Barnaby Johnson
 - Jinx Sterling (given name Alice)
 - Captain Red Wallace (a woman, just to point out)
 - Feckless Dicken
 - Charlotte De Bousc
 - Alfred Palmer
 - Cormac (or maybe Lorcan, I can't decide) O'Connor
 - Isaac Nibbs/Nibble

I'd be intrigued to know your opinions on these, so I know I'm going down the right path with them.

Now, the names a writer selects can also be used as a nod of affection, respect or mockery to someone else.
Can't actually think of any mockeries in main stream fiction right now (badly researched, I know), but they certainly appear all over fanfiction.

Now on the other hand, you can name characters affectionately, almost like a famous actor taking a cameo role in a film.

Rather than do this with a character though, I've done it with the ships. Of course in a pirate story, ships are a very big deal, and I always imagined that Captain Johnson would have named his ship after his late wife. Originally it was called the Sweet Emily, but that just sounds too fluffy for a pirate ship. So I renamed it, and as a nod to my mum, who I credit for endowing me with the writing bug, I named it the Lady Caroline. Sounds a bit more piratical now doesn't it.

However, it hit me recently that I'd named the captain Johnson. John is my dad's name, and with all due respect dad, he was not one of my influences for the character. Captain Barnaby Johnson is a little bit of Barbosa from Pirates of The Caribbean, a little of Professor Robinson from Lost In Space, with perhaps a touch of Vetinari from Terry Pratchett's Discworld, although that element seems to be getting smaller and smaller.

The name was a nod to a fanfiction writer I'm a fan of, and I just liked the name Captain Johnson. It did make me wonder how careful we need to be as writers when taking outside names or influences for our characters. I've never written a character that is purely based on one person, but some certainly have more traits of one person than another. I suppose sometimes we even take influences without realising it.

Your thoughts? How careful do we need to be?

Over the last year, I've gotten to know my main cast of characters very well...except one. Eleanor Palmer, the second heroine. I just can't get a grip on her! All I know is that she's blonde, between the ages of 18-22, the daughter of the current governor of Port Pleasance, engaged to Sebastian Davies...and that's about it. I don't know who she is.

A friend suggested that maybe she has the wrong name, and I think she was right. As Eleanor, I'm sometimes concerned about her turning into Elizabeth Swan from Pirates of The Caribbean. Certainly she has an element of that, but she's gentler, a little more timid, perhaps like Kate Bonnett from the novel of the same name.

I tried giving her a nickname, allowing other characters to reduce it to Nell, and it helped a little but not much. I hope soon to find a name for her that will jump out at me.

Here's an interesting post from a baby names website who obviously cottoned onto how many writers browse their site for influence.

And to finish off, things are going well over at Milliver's Travels. My latest story went live this week, Cape Reinga and the Awesome Bus, and it seems to be going down well with our regular readers.

I was sat on the bus on the way home from work the other day and decided to write a list of all the articles I could write for Milli. The final count was 46, and that number will continue to rise. So now Milli is expecting an article a week so I'd better go and get started on the next one! Take a look at the list here and let me know if there's any articles you would like to see sooner rather than later.


  1. I loved the latest Milli article! And I love the ship name change to Lady Caroline, very nice! I actually like Nell, too! As for other names, can't wait to hear. (Naming characters is tricky but one of my favorite things!)

  2. p.s. Love the new look of the blog (but I liked the old one too!).

  3. Thank you Julia. I do like the idea of calling her Nell, but you know when the name just doesn't sit quite right. It's frustrating.
    Glad you like the new look, and the old one :-)

  4. I love Feckless Dicken! Charlotte's surname would annoy me as a reader though as I wouldn't be sure how it was supposed to be pronounced.

    Having come across Eleanor in a former draft, I can't quite see her as a Nell, if I'm remembering her correctly. How about a 'virtue' name like Grace or Hope or Faith? Something that might reflect both what her father hoped she might be, and what she really is, even though they are two very different things.

    I'm reading a book at the moment which is very long, but it wasn't until page 400ish that any conflict arose. It's the sixth in a series, which has been a long time coming, so reading it has been a little like spending an afternoon with an old friend - very nice, but not especially exciting! I did think of you, and the conversations we've had about conflict. :)

    Nice new blog look too x

  5. Cheers Renee. Glad you like Dicken, he's only a very minor character, but he's fun.

    I guess that's always a risk you run with using foreign names, I've had a couple of instances where I've had to stop trying to read the name in a story and just acknowledge that it's there.

    Nice idea with the virtue's, might look into that some more.

    Glad you like the new look :-)


Please feel free to leave a comment, they make me happy :-)