Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My name is ...

One of the things I had to do while editing was make one of my male characters more appealing. Trouble was I'd been writing about him for so long I couldn't get my initial image of him out of my head.

It occurred to me it was his name that was the problem. Names are so evocative, tending to conjure a certain type of person, and the name I'd chosen isn't one normally seen in chick-lit.

Okay, he wasn't called Pogo or Woopsie (apologies to any Woopsies reading) but I had invented a type of character to go with the name. In case any of you are ever daft enough the read the book - IF it ever gets published - let's say I called him Maurice.

Leading men are rarely called Maurice in romantic comedies. If they are you know they're going to be losers in love, gay or somebody's granddad. I might as well have written in ginormous letters "BY THE WAY, SHE'S NOT GOING TO END UP WITH HIM!"

I was reminded of a couple of films I've seen - can't remember their names, I think one starred Sandra Bullock - where the leading lady started out happily married or engaged to a rather non-descript actor I didn't recognise (I watch a LOT of films) and I knew immediately he would wind up dead or dumped in a very short space of time, and I was right - she copped off with Antonio Banderas (or whoever) in the end.

A small detail, but one that gave away quite a lot and I think my character's name would have had the same effect.

Just changing him from Maurice to Hunter-Gatherer (I jest but you get my drift) shifted my perception straight away and I was able to 'write' him more appealingly - I hope. No more Brylcreem and ham suppers with mummy for my man - no sireee.

Not that he was having ham suppers with mummy - I'm not THAT obvious.


As an aside, it's quite hard getting away from the usual names for leading men - Matt, Nathan, Jack, Zac etc.

Maybe we should start a campaign to bring Cyril, Bertrand, Norman and Keith back into fashion.


optional said...

Names are tricky, but so important. I was wondering if anyone would notice if I nicked all of the first names from the cast of characters in Four Weddings and a Funeral, different surnames obviously!

Anonymous said...

I can identify with this difficulty, Karen. Recently had to excise an Eric from a story, as I had forgotten about Uncle Eric (sadly deceased - tall, dark, moustached and with medals for ballroom dancing). Story Eric and Uncle Eric had a bit of a fight and nobody won.

As to bringing back the old names, don't they re-appear in diminutive form? I'm thinking of the prevalence of Alfie, Archie and Charlie......

Dumdad said...

What's in a name?

Yes, in novels names are important. In real life, for example, there could be five or six Johns in a small social circle but you couldn't name half your characters in a novel John because it would be confusing.

Leading characters are never called Cecil Limpwrist or Tim Bent. I don't know why.

Jayne said...

I do love naming characters, but agree - dynamic fanciable Maurices just don't leap out at me. But what led you to call him Maurice (or equiv of Maurice) in the first place? As sometimes I think characters sort of name themselves... there may have been a reason for the Maurice! But it is funny how names change a character so.

Cheryl said...

Names are weird. Boyf was named after a friend of his Dad's who passed away but I don't think if I met him for the first time I would have thought he looked like a Rchard. Having said that i couldnt imagine him as any other name.

Lane Mathias said...

Maurice might work if he was French but that might mean more of a story change than you anticipated:-)

Personally I like the names in my spam folder. I've had a Jesus and a Raymon already this morning.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

(I'm getting a little tired of Jack as a MC in books and movies.) Names are crucial and such fun to do! Especially when you know you've got it right.

Unknown said...

Names are so important - in life and books...Maurice would be perfectly fine if he was French - it sounds much better with a French accent :-)


Lorna said...

Names are definitely important, I've always had trouble with them... when I was young all my characters would have unusual, exotic names. Nowadays their names are a lot more realistic, but I still tend to lean towards slightly old-fashioned ones, I'm not sure why. Also - my grandad was called Maurice, and he was awesome! I agree it's definitely not an appropriate name for the hero of 21st century chick-lit though. I'm glad you've found a more suitable name that works for your character :-)

DAB said...

Hmmm, now you've got me thinking! Many moons ago when I was a wee thing, I worked with an old Polish chap who had this mad notion that people shouldn't have names but instead be tattooed at birth with a unique number across their foreheads. Say like a bar/ID code His name was Rudolph (a debt collector by trade!) Nice guy :)

joanne fox said...

Names do suggest so much to us don't they.

When I'm struggling to find the right one I really enjoy going through my baby names book, drawing up a short list of possibilities. I usually manage to narrow it down to 3 or so, and then during the writing and editing one of those will just come to feel right for the character.

Francine Howarth said...


Love it, love it!

Thing is, though, was Maurice happier at being renamed?
Does he feel reborn?

It seems to be quite trendy to utilise surnames as forenames these days. Not sure I'd want a character called Ford Streetcar nor Decker Doubleday but they're out there.


Ann said...

I tried to give a character a name I wanted him to have and he just wouldn't have it. He was very insistent about his name.

I am sorry Maurice didn't work out. I have a brother in law named Maurice. Sort of know what you mean. Glad you found a suitable name though.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

It takes me an age to think of the right name for my male characters and I can't really get going until I'm happy with it.

Poor Maurice, I can't wait to find out what you did call him in the end.

Sherri said...

I have to fight the urge to use names from my 'favourites' list every time I write a story.

It always used to consist of names of family members (though not for the nasty characters!) but now I tend to favour people in my writing group. (you might have noticed.)

David said...

How funny! I was just talking to my friend at work about names (in amongst work of course!). She's called Jemma but said that her mum and dad were nearly going to call her Jemima. We both burst out laughing, not because there's anything wrong with being called Jemima. I think it was more that it seemed ridiculous to think of her being called anything but Jemma. She just looks and acts like a Jemma (with a J not a G!)

I wonder how many people there are out there who hate their name and think their parents got in badly wrong in calling them that...

Queenie said...

Now that I'm writing a fantasy novel, I can make up the characters' names, which is sooooo liberating. I don't see that approach working so well in other genres, though!

Amanda said...

Fab post Karen!

But oh God, I've just realised what my leading man's name is! Yikes! X

Denise said...

I find names really difficult, or later discover the easy ones won't work because there's something odd or overly obvious about that. I do like the idea of a leading Cyril though!

Slightly freaked by word verification for this post being "thestory"...

Anna Scott Graham said...

Ahhh Cyril, where for art thou?

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Great post, Karen. I find naming my characters very difficult and keep using the same names over and over again.


Randiga said...


Love your blog. Unfortunatly mine is in swedish, but I'll follow yours.

I think names are terrible hard. I am about to write a book of short stories (published one book of poems) , I must ask other people 'cause I can't decide myself...

Cyril I belive is a great name. So romantic and CRAZY!

Fran Hill said...

Juliet had this problem. 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?' means, not as many think, 'where are you?' but 'why are you (called) Romeo?' If he hadn't been a Montague, all would have been fine and dandy. (And it would have been a very short play.) Yup. Names are significant.

Colette McCormick said...

Sorry to hear about Maurice. I wrote abot a Maurice once but I don't think I ever finished the project.
names can be a nightmare and I use the same ones over and over again - most of the time without realising it.

Susie Vereker said...

Very difficult to change a major character's name at this point, when you've got to know them. Am looking forward to reading the book.

Jumbly Girl said...

Naming characters is so weird, cos if the name just come to you, that's the way it is. Have recently realized that the not very nice guy in my novel has the same name as one of my real life favourite people and I've tried changing it but nothing else works because - that's his name! IF I ever get close to publication I might have to have a quick find and replace!

Hope you have found the right name for yours

Karen said...

anna-marie - That's a good idea. I THINK it's just about long enough ago for everyone to have forgotten what they were (I'm afraid I can't remember and I loved that film back in the day!)

christine - It's funny how we associate names with people we know! You're right about dimuntives, but Charlie was my grandad's name so that wouldn't do :o)

dumdad - Cecil Limpwrist! Love it. Author Wendy Holden used to give her characters funny surnames like the Front-Bottomes and Uppe-Timmselves (Simply Divine) but I did find them a tad distracting!

jayne - I gave him a name that suited his character initially, but it soon became clear he wasn't a suitable boyfriend for the mc - it had to go!

lilys - I think once we know someone by a certain name, it's impossible to think of them with another one. A woman at work recently changed hers, for some reason, and none of us can get used to it!

kareng - I do spend a lot of time dreaming up names, but when I started writing my second novel I realised two of my characters had exactly the same initials as those in my first - definitely some sort of overlap going on!

lane - Jesus and Raymon do sound suitably romantic - in real life they probably aren't. Especially if they're hanging around in your spam folder ...

liz fenwick - I think most words sound better spoken in a French accent!

lorna - I love finding a name that suits a character and sometimes exotic is good. I had a lot of fun trying to think of a "Paris Hilton" equivalent for my second novel!

tommo - Rudolph sounds like a fascinating person! Like the barcode idea, but it would be complicated to write as a character :o))

joanne fox - Ooh yes, I've got a well-thumbed baby-name book too! Actually I spend far to much time flipping through it :o)

francine - Yes Maurice is much happier in his new skin - he even stopped wearing suits all the time :o)

My surname - Clarke - could be utilised as a forename!

ann - It's very hard for them to behave against type once they're named, isn't it? Maurice is much more relaxed now his name's changed!

debs - No, I can't really get going until I've got it right either. I rarely change a name once I'm underway, but it was the right thing to do in this case!

bernadette - Trouble is, there are only so many (normal!) names you can use, so it's inevitable they're going to keep cropping up. Actually I haven't used yours yet ...

david - I think once you've been named it's hard to think of yourself as anything else, though a girl at work recently morphed from Julie to Honeybelle, so I guess she wasn't too happy!

queenie - Ooh, yes you can really let rip in fantasy land! I can't imagine a Hagrid in contemporary fiction sadly :o)

Amanda - I happen to like your leading man's name very much, so leave it alone :o))

Karen said...

denise - Word veri is quite spooky sometimes.

I've got a feeling Cyril's never going to make a comeback in our lifetime, more's the pity!

anna - Dead and gone, unfortunately! Maybe we should start a campaign to revive it :o)

suzanne - It's tempting to keep using the same ones. I find I end up using one's with the same initials!

karin - Welcome - I've just sold a short story to Allas magazine today!

I do love the idea of a crazy, romantic Cyril :o)

Good luck with your short stories.

fran - God yes, imagine if Romeo had been Clive. Then again we wouldn't know any different and Clive would have become the most romantic name evah!

colette - Poor Maurice, I'm starting to feel sorry for him now and he doesn't even exist! I often re-use names without realising.

susie vereker - I wouldn't normally, but it actually worked really well :o) I do hope you like the book - IF it gets published!

jumbly girl - That's another reason why it's hard to use names of people you know well - if you write them as a horrid character they'll probably never forgive you!

Hope and Chances said...

I watch end credits of films/tv to find a name I like, then I scour magazines, newspapers until I find a picture that matches my name - he/she is then stuck in my notebook with a little profile and effectively 'born' - only way I can make them completely real. On some occasions I have so many characters lined along the dining table it looks like I'm wittling down Xfactor contestants or something! ;-)

Glynis Peters said...

I was OK with my names, I had to use Victorian ones. Arthur, James, and Joe are a few I have used.
I could not put Arthur in my second, as it too modern.

I love your switch to Hunter-gatherer, far more appealing, than Mummy ham sandwiches guy. LOL