Finding appropriate names for characters can be a tricky business. When writing my short story Homeward Bound I named the protagonist, Thomas Rudston, using my friend’s second name and the name of the road on which he lived. As the story developed I realised the character needed to be Italian so I changed his name (no deed poll needed) to Tony Pinto, after a boy I was at school with.
I’m reading Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín at the moment and it is taking me back to the time when I lived in Co. Wexford. While there, I had a dream that my name had been changed to Enniscorthy. It felt refreshingly different, bold and even majestic. No one says Enniscorthy as softly as a native of Wexford. As it happens my names can all be found in song titles:
That’s me folks! And now, after all these years, Beryl has a song, thanks to Mark Knopfler. It is not a name that sits easily as the subject of a song, or a name that suggests romance, and yet it is a love song, of sorts. Knopfler wrote the song as a tribute to Beryl Bainbridge. All of a sudden it makes sense and the song is all the more beautiful for that.
A character’s name has to nestle into the text and maintain the imagined illusion. We name our children, pets, houses and boats and expect them to grow into their identity. The writer has the luxury of discovering their characters and naming them accordingly. Who knew Frances Crook would become the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, or that Susanne Blizzard would become a Weather Presenter, or that Thomas Crapper would be credited with the manufacture of Victorian toilets? There is even a name for this phenomenon: aptronym
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.’ Romeo and Juliet (II ii 1-2)
Maybe, but how easy it is to raise someone’s hackles by calling them by a name, or variant of, that they don’t like. Our name is who we are and our characters’ names are who they are.