Tag Archives: names

Inspiration Monday – Names

This week I’ve swapped my usual Thursday and Friday posts. If you’re looking for the Friday Fictioneers, check out yesterday’s short story. If you’re looking for InMon, you’re in the right place. Feedback and critique feed the muse, and she’s hungry.

Names

No-one calls me Elizabeth. My parents must have said it once or twice when I was born, but all my life they called me Kit, in reference to a joke even I don’t remember. I grew up Beth at school, then stamped my authority and became Liz when I left home, as though that would make me a different person, and separate me from the agonies of teenagehood. It’ll be on my gravestone, I suppose, “Elizabeth Belinda West – beloved…” What? Friend, I suppose, I’ve no family left to mourn me.

When he says it, Elizabeth, my mind doesn’t recognise it as me. His face is close to mine, a tender look in his eyes, as if he might kiss me. Again. His mouth was on mine moments ago; I can still feel the moistness on my lips where his closed over them. I have dreamed of this moment for so long and yet I can’t remember it now.

He says it again, more urgently this time, “Elizabeth”, but he makes no move to approach again. I have opened my eyes, but perhaps he wants me to speak.

I move my tongue, my lips, as though for the first time in an eternity. I am mouthing the words, but it takes a moment to make them sound.

“Liz,” I say, eventually.

“Liz, are you OK?”

“You kissed me.” It’s the only thing I can think of. Pathetic, I know. A grown woman with a crush is bad enough. A grown woman with a crush on the guy at the bus stop. A guy she’s never spoken to. And now, that’s all I can think of to say.

“Someone had to.” His reply confuses me and I begin to look around. I am lying on my back, but this is not the soft bed of my fantasies. I’m in the street. There’s a car bumper a few feet away, and a small crowd standing above us. “Don’t try to talk, the ambulance is on its way.”

The thought comes into my head again: a guy I’ve never spoken to. “How did you know my name?”

“It’s on your work pass.” He smiles again. “Chris Marlowe, my friends call me Kit.”

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Naming Names

There are three men called Harry, Matt and Norman. Try to spot which is which:

Man 1: Six foot tall, with a tanned, strong physique. Teenage girls turn and watch him go by, nudging each other and giggling. He hails from Australia, or possibly California.

Man 2: Brought up in Kent, his parents are a Stockbroker and a distant relative of the Queen. He speaks with an accent that immediately picks him out as English and upper class.

Man 3: An IT technician, he spends his spare time in his basement flat playing computer games. He’s never had a girlfriend and although he’s 30 his bedroom wall is still covered with pin up posters that look like something out of FHM / Playboy.

Got it? Now let’s say I started the story from the point of view of a girl, watching these three guys at the bar. She eventually gets the courage to go up and speak to the hotty. She introduces herself. “I’m Norman,” he says. “These are my friends, Matt and,” he hid a smile, “Harry.”

Chances are, you had them as 1 – Matt, 2 – Harry, 3 – Norman and this little bit of dialogue has pulled you up short. What? The hotty is called Norman? Then which one is Matt and which is Harry? Now you’re skipping back, trying to work out what happened, which bit you misread, whether the “he” could refer to the geek. You’re outside the story and you’re going to completely miss the important plot point I’ve got going on about Norman’s secret crush on Harry, because you’re busy realigning the characters with the right names.

Books on writing don’t tend to deal with naming your characters, but it’s an area filled with potential traps, becuase most names come with stereotypes and vice versa. Like all stereotypes, we know they are unreliable, but we apply them subconsciously, both as writers and as readers.

In reality, the boy wizard has turned Harry into one of the most popular names in Britain, amongst all classes; Norman could well be Norman IV, named after generations of Normans back to when it was just a fashionable name, and we all know a geeky Matt and an ugly Matt, as well as hot- surfer-Matt, because it is one of the most popular names in the English-speaking world (In both the US and UK, it hasn’t been outside the top 20 since 1970). In twenty years, they will have a similar situation with Harrys.

There are other issues too. Different people have different experiences of particular names. I know someone who hates the name Greg, because she was bullied by a Greg, and someone else who thinks “Steve” is synonymous with “gorgeous” because her first love was a Steve. I’ve only known one Greg and not well, so I have no such hang ups with it, and my brother is called Steve, so I’m not necessarily trying to imply anything of the sort when I write a Steve. As an author, we can’t predict these personal prejudices in our readers, so unless we’re going to start from scratch and invent names (there are probably children called Gandalf and Samwise by now, aren’t there?), it’s just another gauntlet we have to run.

When we name our characters, we like to avoid stereotypes but we also strive to avoid confusion. If the fictional Morris family names their children Mark, Luke and Mary, we probably are trying to give you a clue about the parent’s religious stance; the parents of Skye, Bonbon and Morpheus probably wouldn’t encourage them to play with the Morris kids. But we also reserve the right to subvert your expectations occasionally. Just because we call the kid Clark and give him thick glasses, a bumbling manner and a small town upbringing, doesn’t mean he won’t be a superhero!

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