Sunday, 27 January 2008

What's In a Name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.

(Romeo & Juliet, Act II sc 2)

Would it really, though? Consider, for example, the fearless ‘John’ and the Argonauts. Hmm. Not quite such an impressive band, after all, are they? Similarly, one might judge King ‘Roy’ the Lionheart to lack a certain amount of the requisite gravitas. And, one has to ask, would the whole “we will fight them on the beaches” speech have been so well received if delivered by our brave Prime Minister, ‘Wendel’ Churchill? Would ‘Hercules’ Potter have become an international publishing phenomenon? Or the plucky, Dickensian urchin, ‘Orville’ Twist, have tugged on quite so many heartstrings? Possibly not.

Generally speaking, it’s as unlikely that the 19th Century Lady Farquharson at the centre of one story would be named ‘Stacey’, as it is that the genial bricklayer starring in another tale might be called ‘Algernon’.

Unlikely - but not, I’ll grant you, impossible. However, on those occasions when an author does elect to name their characters so outlandishly, they usually do so with good reason. The very incongruity of the names not only contributes to the story, but may even begin to tell it before the first page has been turned...

A brickie called Algernon? Perhaps he was born to an aristocratic family, the proverbial silver spoon jammed firmly in his mouth. Sadly, however, his good fortune was soon to fail him and, one way or another (through his own fault, or that of others?), he fell from grace. By the time we meet him, therefore, he is busy making his own way in the world and proving that the value of a man is not measured by the size of his inheritance.

And Lady Stacey Farquharson? Could she have been a housemaid who got lucky – whose seduction by the heir to the title ended not in pregnancy, disgrace and dismissal, but in a marriage far above her station and beyond her wildest dreams? Or might she perhaps have been a time traveller from the 21st century, who somehow (how, exactly?) found herself adrift in a strange time and place – a place where, even as she struggled to adapt to her incredible situation, she found herself falling in love with and then marrying the Lord of the Manor?

A ‘fitting’ name may suggest a great number of things about a person or a character, but the ‘wrong’ name can often suggest even more. Either way, the choice should be made with great care.

Are you currently having some difficulty in choosing a name for your new character/infant/pet/alternative life-form, fictional or otherwise? If so, then you may find the following sites helpful: