Tuesday, 3 March 2015
Julie, Julia or Juliet?
Something occurred to me when choosing names for the characters in my latest novel ~ how a name affects your impression of someone before you've even met them. Sometimes a character arrives in my head with his or her name attached, other times I try up to six different ones before settling on one that feels like the person I'm writing about. In one of my earlier books, Nobody's Fault, one of the main characters is called Tara. She was one of the former type; I wanted her to be called Emily but found that I kept typing 'Tara' by mistake; obviously my subconscious had already decided that was her name. It was right; she wasn't 'sweet' enough for Emily. My apologies to all the sharp and edgy Emilys out there - it's just what the name says to me!
What I'm getting round to, though, is something that's not just of interest to writers. It's how names mean different things to us all, and how previous experiences affect how we feel about anyone else with that name. Sorry, people called Andrew, but you will always be the boy in my primary school class who used to have embarrassing 'accidents'....! I got to thinking about all this again during the reading of a book the other week. The heroine was in her late 20s, small, pretty, with long wavy blonde hair. She was called Marian; sadly, she didn't work for me because in my head she was in her early 40s, plain and a bit mumsy, probably because I remember, as a child, meeting my cousin Marian who was ... plain and a bit mumsy. Marianne, however, would have conjured up the picture the author intended....
.... because sometimes a name so similar to another can say something entirely different, can't it? Like this: in my mind, Julie is a pretty blonde who works in a factory in a 1960s film. Substitute the 'e' for an 'a', though, and Julia is a dark, rather glamorous and serious literary critic or actress (or a dark, rather glamorous proofreader, in my sister's case). Add a 't' and she becomes Juliet, a demure girly-girl in long flowery dresses.
How do you feel about your own name? I was christened Theresa, which I dislike. I decided I wanted to be Terry when I was twelve, and all my friends wanted the boys' version of our names because, we thought, it sounded cool. I like Terry. I grind my teeth with annoyance if anyone calls me 'Kerry' by mistake. This mostly happens when I ring up for taxis; Mr Dial A Cab pulls up outside the supermarket and shouts 'Taxi for Kerry!' and I go 'grrrr'. No offence to any Kerrys reading this, it just isn't right for me. My second husband was called Alan, which he loathed, so much that he used his schoolboy nickname of 'Stodge' throughout his adult life. No, he wasn't fat; it's a long story. He said he always wanted to be called Steve, which, he thought, was the ideal guy name. I agree with him; I like it, too. I was always pleased when someone I fancied turned out to be called Steve!
Here's another one like the 'Julie' thing - a Michael known as Mike is a nice married man who works in an office and has 2.4 children, barbecues on weekends, does DIY on bank holidays and makes regular visits to his parents. Mick, however, is a rock guitarist with a leather jacket and a big black motorbike. >>>Vroom>>..... Should Mick remain Michael, though, he's a doctor with a barrister wife who has relaxed but rather self-consciously sophisticated dinner parties. As Micky, he's a cheeky chap who does a few dodgy deals. If he's Mikey, he's under ten.
Love interests in novels are Richard, Patrick, Daniel, Johnny, Marcus, Max, Ben, Jack, Sean, Jared ~ or maybe that's just me, too! But recently I read a novel in which I guessed who the heroine was going to end up with as soon as I read his name. I thought, you wouldn't waste that totally Mills and Boon name on a guy who doesn't get the girl! I quite like to give my sexier male characters very ordinary names - the one in my latest book is called Jim! A while back, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about how to write a romcom which is HERE; in it I've suggested names for various characters. In the comments one writer** says that she sometimes tries to put readers off the scent by giving a dull character a glamorous name, and vice versa, but received complaints when she called a love interest Doug. It's my dad's name, I can't comment!
One thing I love about starting a new book is having all those new characters to name. It gets harder and harder, though; I've used a lot of my favourites. I've got a Jared in the novel I've just started; I last used it when I tried (unsuccessfully) to write a Mills and Boon, in 1995; yeah, yeah, it's a bit of a cliche romantic guy name but I do like it. I might dig the M&B out some time and have a look at it to see if it's as dire as I remember, just for a laugh. Generally, though, I'm with Emily Barr (who is NOT a sweet, girly Emily!) on wanting to call every nice male character Patrick. I last used it in Nobody's Fault in 2011 - perhaps I can use it again now?!
**yes, I was totally made up to have Jill Mansell comment on my lowly blog, in case you're wondering!