28th May 2012 What's in a name?
I love giving my characters names which mean something. According to Shakespeare's Juliet, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I don't know if that's really true. If the play were called Donald and Juliet for example, would it be quite such a brilliant title? Of course, Donald is a lovely name and I have nothing against it but it doesn't have quite the same tragic ring, it doesn't ooze Italian romance. Your name should define and identify you. Without a name we are dehumanised, deindividualised. I remember being shocked reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, thinking about the reasons why a character would be called Sixo. And then we have other examples like Curley's wife and Margaret Atwood's Offred. The way they have been named tells us an awful lot about the society in which they live. Names can be political - a means of control or of imposing a definition on individuals. Dickens is great with names, as everyone knows. Uriah Heep is one of my favourites - it sounds as obsequious as the character himself.
In Black Heart Blue I enjoyed naming my characters - although bizarrely the names I chose for Rebecca and Hephzi were coincidentally fitting as opposed to being so by design. Both are Old Testament names, which suits The Father's Old Testament mentality - he preaches fire and brimstone and sees the devil in a disfigurement. Rebecca means "to bind" and this works well for her character because she is bound to her sister in both life and in death. Hephzibah means "my delight is in she" and certainly she's the favoured daughter. Cheryl and Craig are pretty nondescript names but when naming Mrs Sparks I played with the idea of the fairy godmother and her wand - she could have saved the girls, but fails to do so. Danny of course comes from Daniel meaning "God is my judge", an ironic glance again at The Father who couldn't be less worthy of his role as a religious leader.Roderick means "famous power" (which is all he aspires to be) and Maria means "sea of bitterness" - both fitting names for these characters. Mrs Larkin references the great Philip Larkin who was both poet and librarian, but I won't give away the relevance of Kinsman just in case you haven't read the book! Even Daisy, Hephzi's so-called friend is symbolic - nice on the outside, rotten underneath (white/yellow) - this I borrowed from The Great Gatsby, I must confess.
So a name is so much more than just a word. It has a meaning, a history, might be a joke, or be symbolic. A name can define you, with or without your permission. It's definitely an important part of the writing process, and one of the most fun things to play around with. It's nearly as good as having children. And there's no one to argue with over the name, the writer gets to call all the shots.
“What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?'
'Cats don't have names,' it said.
'No?' said Coraline.
'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.”
― Neil Gaiman, Coraline