20 July 2010

Character Naming, after the fact

I've really shamelessly borrowed the title of this blog post from one I found recently, on a site called Baby Name Wizard.
The writer opened with this statement:
Fictional characters are the best-named group on the planet. Their secret, of course, is that they're not named at birth. Their creators have the luxury of knowing who they become before choosing custom-tailored names.
She goes on to talk about how in recent films characters are re-named, or given extra bits to their name.

That got me thinking about when writers name their characters. I remember reading one book where the character's name changed mid-book. I was reading an ARC and the author had changed his mind about what the character's name would be.

So writers, when do you name your characters? Have you ever changed your mind?
How difficult is it to write a story or a novel if you don't know what the character is to be called?

Readers - what are the most peculiar names you've ever seen?
Have you ever come across your own name?
I know also of a practice where a writer has held a competition, or even raised money for charity, to decide on a character's name.
"the xxx is the character that will be named after one of my readers" P.D. Martin

I remember at least one book where the character is not named at all (Bill Pronzini's  Nameless Detective series) - perhaps you can list more?
I've found a couple of suggestions:
Green Eggs and Ham
Rebecca
The Road

So that raises another issue doesn't it - how uncomfortable does not knowing who the protagonist is make you feel?

8 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Interesting question!! Let's see... Well, I always name my characters. They sort of develop personalities once they have names, so I honestly couldn't write much about a nameless character. I get my names from different kinds of inspiration, including people are nice enough to read my blog. I don't, honestly, go looking for names, as in baby name books or databases. I know it sounds fanciful, but names do just come to me, particularly once I have a basic idea of the kind of character I am writing. I know, not much of a direct answer to your question, but there it is.

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Kerrie, Eduardo Mendoza has a trilogy featuring an unnamed amateur sleuth. You can find more information here: http://ignacioescribano.blogspot.com/2010/02/eduardo-mendoza.html

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Also another amateur sleuth the amin character in the Hop-Çiki-Yaya series by Mehmet Murat Somer is unnamed at least in the first books. I understand he is named in one of the latest book not yet translated.

Kerrie Smith said...

Your characters are a bit like Athena, Margot, who sprang fully formed from her father's head.

Kerrie Smith said...

Thanks for those Jose Ignacio

Deb said...

In several of Stuart MacBride's Aberdeen-based crime novels, he has characters who are named after real people who made donations to specific charities. I think Elizabeth George did this in at least on her books too.

Graham Greene used to give his characters very basic names (Jones, Smith, etc.) to avoid libel lawsuits, which were very common in England at the time. Some authors went in the other direction and created wildly unlikely names--also to avoid unintentionally naming a character after a real person.

My personal favorite story is that of GONE WITH THE WIND. Throughout the entire draft process, Margaret Mitchell's heroine was named Pansy O'Hara. It was only when a New York editor explained to Mitchell that the word "pansy" could have a negative connotation that it was changed to "Scarlett"--an Irish surname mentioned at one point in the book.

Kerrie Smith said...

That would have been very different had she been left as Pansy wouldn't it Deb. That might have been a case when the film changed her name!

BooksPlease said...

I recently watched a TV programme where Ian Rankin was talking about his favourite pieces of art. One of them was a List of Names by Douglas Gordon in the Gallery of Modern Art at the Scottish National Gallery. Rankin said that the way he names his characters is sometimes by using the telephone directory and picking someone's first name and matching it to another person's surname. He also uses names from real people who have won charity auctions - sometimes up to six characters in a book.

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy has some wonderfully peculiarly named characters - including Titus Groan, Lord Sepulchrave, Swelter the chef and Prunesquallor, the castle physician.

One of the aspects of Rebecca that I love is the nameless narrator - it has always intrigued me.

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