Monday, 29 July 2013
The picture above is of a common weed. As you can see, it is not particularly pretty. I nonetheless allot it a space in the garden--corner of the fence, near the clematis--where it can flourish undisturbed. Why? I discovered that it bears the name of 'enchanter's nightshade'--and how could I eradicate from my garden a plant with a marvellous name like that?
Wildflowers often have wonderful names: 'traveller's joy', 'heartsease', 'viper's bugloss'. Disappointingly, however, the names don't always seem to fit the plant very well. Take this one:
Names in books are awkward. They automatically create expectations in the reader. An action-man hero called 'Nigel' or 'Julian' would be laughed at; romantic heroines are unlikely to be named 'Sue'. If an author names a character 'Daisy' or 'Buttercup', the girl's either going to be a simple country lass or the author is playing games.
When I'm writing a historical novel I usually compose lists names as I do the preliminary research--subdivided by sex and origin, so that I have a list of, say, 'Roman British Male Names' and 'Roman British Female Names' and 'North African Male Names' and so on; then, when a character appears for the first time I run down my list and pick something that seems to fit. Often I discover that another character who appears later fits that name better, and then I have to go back and rename the first one. (When I started writing, this was a matter of checking and retyping: 'Find and Replace' is ever such a nice command!) Sometimes a character is hard to name. I once wrote the first chapter of a book with the main character and first person narrator written as *** because I couldn't make up my mind what to call him. As for books themselves--either they have a name almost from the moment they're conceived, or I can't think of a title at all, and end up exchanging suggestions with the publishers.
Of course, the most important task of naming is one most of us do at some point: naming a new baby. The rules to that, however, are very different to those that govern the naming of a character in fiction. You don't worry about fictional characters being bullied at school: you may even assign that fate to them, as part of fleshing them out. Babies are much closer to the heart.