Monday, December 14, 2009

Character Names

So I have a thing about names. I am one of those people who collects names. Names of people, places, colors, rooms, rugs, furniture, flowers, shoes--everything. I collected names even when I was deep in the trenches of BA, MA, PhD academic critical theory with no where to put a fictional character let alone worry about the name, shoes or street address.

There are names I have always liked, names that lose their freshness and I grow out of them, and then names that grow on me and I like more and more. The smaller fictional characters in my book were cast and recast from a roster of these names. Cooks, footmen, bakers all gradually shifted in and out of monikers. Surprisingly their personalities shifted to match. Sophie the cook was softer and sweeter and wore comfortable shoes whereas when she became Agnes she grew far more stern, wore durable shoes and put less sugar in her pies.

Anywhere I could I would use the historical name, and these names went a long way towards defining the character for me. When I found that King Charles II's favorite spaniel was called Dot, that changed both the king and his pet for me. I decided that a man who named his dog Dot wore colorful dressing gowns.

Funny how names change the light and the walk and the dress and the shoes of a character just as they change a ballgown or a pair of jeans. There is a reason trendy jeans all sport human names. I love True Religion "Joey" jeans. I can't wear the "Billy" (drainpipe skinnies) or the "Cassidy" (huge flares) but am seriously considering the "Becky". Becky and Joey just sound friendlier don't they? Billy and Cassidy sound intimidating.

I have a beloved friend from university whose family has a rare animal farm in Yorkshire. All of the rare sheep have what he calls "old lady" names like Maud and Effie. That has always seemed so right. My brother's dog is Gordon--of course he is. He is a fussbudget and a profoundly odd but truly lovable dog who could only be called Gordon. When I was ten I looked after a friend's hamster called Puff. Puff just sat there eating and getting puffier. It fit.

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