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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Writing – You name it…

When writing fiction, character names are important, as you’d expect. Some names seem to fit the character precisely. Others seem odd. Dickens is famous for his character names – Quilp, Fagin, Barkis, Podsnap, Weller, Danton, Pecksniff, Cratchit, and so on. Of course he used more ‘ordinary’ names for characters as well.

I’ve discussed some names I chose for my books in Write a Western in 30 Days; here’s a snippet:

‘Screenwriters tend to steer clear of names that begin with the same letter or are homophones. I’ll never understand why Tolkien settled on two villains with the names Sauron and Saruman! So, try to avoid naming characters with similar monikers or even with their names beginning with the same letter.

‘While in real life you might know three or four Daves, Johns or Mikes, fiction isn’t the real world, so take it easy on the reader and don’t introduce unnecessary confusion and only use a name once. It’s not as if there aren’t enough to choose from.

‘One place to research names is on the Internet. Decide on the character’s nationality and key in first names for that country. You’ll be surprised at the amount of choice offered, together with meanings. Another place is the Dictionary of First Names or equivalent books; just make sure that the names you choose are contemporary for the period.’ (pp89/90).

Going back to real life, it’s hard to comprehend why some parents will inflict outlandish names on their children.

Recently, a judge in Valenciennes, France decreed a couple could not name their daughter Nutella because it’s the trade name of a spread.’ Now, if their surname had been Spread, perhaps, it might have worked…

New Zealand’s births, deaths and marriages department has a list of banned names, among them Majesty, Queen Victoria, Lucifer and, believe it or not, Mafia No Fear. Any parent wanting to saddle their child with that last moniker really ought to wake up with a horse’s head next to them!

Iceland has a Personal Names Register, listing 1,712 male and 1,853 female permitted names.

Rejected names in other countries include Anus, Monkey, Superman, Scrotum, Terminator, Burger King, Virgin, Hitler and Megane. Germany bans the use of surnames as first names, and they must be gender-specific; Malaysia bans the use of animals, fruit and vegetables as children’s names; Portugal has a 41-page of banned names and doesn’t allow contractions, such as Tom; Morocco would reject Sarah (Hebrew) but accept Sara; most Arabic countries insist on Arabic names.

So, if you’re going to create a foreign character, make sure the name is appropriate; but do strive to avoid the cliché options.
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1 comment:

Ron Scheer said...

My wife, a crime fiction fan, was just saying she would not read a novel with a female character named Andi. Not gender-appropriate maybe, and too fussily self-conscious.