Thursday, January 28, 2016

Naming Names

Since I am beginning a new novel, I am engaged in the serious matter of naming a number of characters—six or seven at last count—about whom I know very little. I have a general idea of their relationships to the main characters in the story, but not all their motivations, or even their physical appearances. Naming characters has become a challenge, a challenge which increases the longer I write.

It wasn’t always so. Naming characters in my first book, A Match for Lady Constance, was something of a lark. I wrote Constance largely for my own amusement. Even the name of the heroine was slightly tongue-in-cheek. One does not think of a spoiled beauty as the source of reliability that the name Constance implies.

When I named Constance, I was unaware of the understanding among writers that using names that end in an “s” sound should be avoided. It was bad enough for me to name my heroine with a name that ended in “ce”, which sounds like “s”. But in my second book, A Sensible Lady, I named a main character, Augustus, “Gus”. The name was perfect for him. I still think it is. And I’m glad I didn’t know enough to pass over that name, even though he is a main character in my current Work In Progress, and I’ll be dealing with “s’s” for about twenty chapters. What joy!

However, I did learn one important lesson about naming characters in the process of writing A Match for Lady Constance. I learned that once named, a character can develop a life of her own, transforming herself into someone quite different from her intended function. Drusilla Fortesque is the most dramatic example of this phenomenon. I thought Drusilla Fortesque was the perfect name for a frumpy nonentity with a minor role early in Lady Constance. But, before I knew it, Drusilla Fortesque became a lady of sophistication and wit and made herself essential to the story. Eventually, she required a novel of her own, the novel that became Boston Tangle. Had I known I was naming a character who would become the heroine of her own story, I doubt I would have dubbed her Drusilla Fortesque.  But if she had the wit and fortitude to defy the dull, limited assignment I gave her, she certainly had the wit and fortitude to carry off her name, Drusilla Fortesque, with panache.

The heroine of my new novel is named Jane Hamilton. Sounds like a subdued, easy going sort of lady. We shall see about that.

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