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Friday, 12 July 2013

It's all in a name

Names are so important. They make an instant impression. This little rose resides at the bottom of my rockery and is called Warm Welcome. I send a very warm welcome to all of you visiting my blog.

When I was small a lot of people seemed unable to remember my name. They knew it was a name which had belonged to one of the Queens of England so I often got called Victoria.

Or maybe I looked a bit like a Victoria but there's nothing like people regularly forgetting your name for making you feel a bit insignificant! Maybe people couldn't remember my name because it was actually given to me by my grandmother as a result of my parents not being able to agree on what to call me. So my name was not carefully chosen for me. It was plucked from the door of the room my mother was in at the maternity unit - the Alexandra room. I sometimes wonder if I'd  be a slightly different person if I had a different name or maybe I was meant to be called Alexandra all along. But we're getting into the realms of philosophy here and I am digressing.

I do know that in books it's important to get the names of characters right. Last week, on one of my school visits, a young man asked me why I had chosen the name Jess for my main character in Last Chance Angel. I'm afraid I couldn't really give him a satisfactory answer. Jess was the name which spiralled out of the ether when I began to write the book and from the very beginning it felt absolutely right. Likewise the Angel of Death was instantly and obviously a Darren. In my next book for Templar my main character is called Laura and her cousins are Liberty, Liam and Luke. Again these are names which came fairly easily. I didn't have to think too much about them and to me they seem to fit the characters. Completely unwittingly I seem to have tapped into a trend as I read a report only last week that celebrities are favouring names for their children which begin with the same letter.

Names don't always come easily though. The student I mentioned earlier said he had a problem with names and I do sympathise. The names of the adults in my next book for Templar took more thinking about and it took me a little while to feel comfortable with my choices. For me, if the name doesn't feel right my character won't develop in the way he/she needs to. Every time I write I will get that little voice in my head saying 'this name isn't right. Do something about it.' As a reader too I am quite sensitive to names. I recently read a children's book where the names of the four main child characters felt completely wrong and it spoilt my enjoyment of the story.

So, how do you find the right name if it doesn't come to you straight away? Well baby name books are always useful as are lists on the internet. Olivia, Lily and Sophie are the top 3 girls names in the U.K. with Harry, Jack and Oliver being at the top of the pile for the boys. But sometimes I'll just be driving along and see a name on the side of a lorry or hear something on the radio and think 'that's a good name'.  I actually find surnames more difficult to choose than Christian names and that is where the telephone directory comes in useful. Although I have been known to change the surnames of my characters several times until I felt they were right.

Of course you can have great fun making up names too. In Princess Posy Knight in Training I had a horse called Hodgepodge and an old, crusty knight called Sir Limpalong. In Pirate Polly I invented characters called Stinky Dave, Mad-Eyed Mick and Press- Gang Pete.

What I do believe is that it is important to take time to find the right name. Finding the right name for your characters will affect the way you write about them. It will give your writing more freedom and the right name will also affect the way your readers respond. So I'll finish with another flower. This is a geranium, which I've had for many years, taken loads of cuttings from and given away to friends. It is called Happy Thought and just its name makes me smile but of course it has the most beautiful bright flowers and lovely leaves too.

Thank you for reading and may you have many happy thoughts this week.

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