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! 




 

20 comments:

  1. Names are fun. I have to stick within the ''Victorian '' name frame..so no Chardonneys or Kevins. The fun names are the pastiche ones..... where one can suggest the character from the name..like Morbid Crevice, or Nevis Thewl (next book). Also I get an impression of a character in a book I'm reading not only from the author's description, but from my own associations with the name. NEVER call anyone Pamela. Just saying.

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    1. Oh yes, you're names are wonderful! That's okay, I would never use Pamela, because she is a rather snooty woman in the 1950s, and there aren't many of them in my novs!!!!

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  2. Oh heck, finding the right name is so hard! You can attach to one, and then someone says, 'No you can't do that, it reminds me of ...' and comes out with a long story about Auntie Someone, which is utterly irrelevant but suddenly your lovely whoever is tainted, she has a beard or he has pimples and you have to start all over again!

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  3. Another great post, Terry or should I say Kerry :D - working in schools is a minefield where names are concerned because almost all names have connotations with different children. For instance, Jamies and Jasons are nearly always naughty. When my friend ( a fellow teacher) had a baby it was a nightmare thinking of names because everytime someone suggested one it was like - no way, remember such and such a body who was a little so and so. Funnily enough, taking Carol's point about old fashioned names, I've recently found myself teaching an Arthur, Wilf and Ernest :D

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    1. Ahhhhh, yes - and that's another thing. How name trends move down the class system. 30 years ago the upper classes were calling their children Alice, Joseph, Lucas, Eleanor - old fashioned names. Now, they're everywhere. Archie is another one - started off a working class name, then got arty upper-middle class, now filtered back down to the working class. Could write a book on this, but Jilly Cooper already has!

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  4. You're absolutely right. A name can make or break. I would never have dated the most gorgeous Norman after seeing Psycho. I love/hate my own name. Hate because I can never find it on a keychain or coffee mug. Love it because I can never find it on a keychain or coffee mug.

    When my nieces and nephews, tried to call me Aunt Anita, it ended up sounding like Ant Eater so I insisted we assume the formality and stick with Anita. I wouldn't have chosen it but hey, doesn't lend itself well to wacky rhymes or nicknames so I'll keep it!

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    1. 'Anita' is a tall dark person!!!! But yes, I like it too. :)

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  5. Love this piece, Terry. The fact that I agree with everything you say in principle, but would argue with some of the specifics, just shows how problematic this area is. I certainly think carefully about how certain names are associated with particular ages, but even then it's quite tricky. I don't think I'd ever give a character my own name – too boring!

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    1. I think I have the odd Terry here and there, Anne, but it's usually a man!!! As for ages - yes, agreed. That was the problem I had with the 26 year old Marian, too - it's a name from MY generation!

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  6. I often find that the top half of the alphabet is used for character names far more than the bottom half as if people start at A and work down but soon get fed up looking.

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    1. Ah - interesting! I tend to look and think about 'which initial letter haven't I used yet', as I think it's so important not to have characters with the same initial letter or similar names, as it's confusing for the reader.

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  7. I love it when names for characters make themselves clear. I wrote a young witch once, who I thought would be Amaryllis (after the good fairy in The Robber Hotzenplotz), but I just couldn't get a grip on her. I heard the name Eden on the radio and went, 'Ah, that's who you are.' - and the story flew after that! Agree the right name is vital - although I have written most of a book with a 'working' name for my hero while I tried to figure him out.

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    1. I completely understand everything you say, and do all of that myself, Katy!

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  8. I've had more real life than fictional trouble with names over the years. My ex-husband's name is Paul, and I still sometimes get junk mail intended for him. That terminal "a" seems hard for some people to grasp. For awhile when we were married we considered going by our middle names, but Liz and Steve just didn't seem like us. I have to admit that however nice a guy I'm dating is (back when I went through a spate of Doing That), if he has The Name it feels weird. Not to mention that it creeps out my adult children.

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  9. I'm not a writer but this post amused me. I actually read it a few days ago but couldn't reply at the time. The night before I read it I'd had a dream about the most beautiful man I have ever seen. Tall, blond, blue eyes, (surprisingly) short hair....his name was Sam Stevens. I don't know, nor have I ever known, anyone called Sam Stevens. I have no idea where the name came from and the face wasn't familiar either so I did what anyone would do and Googled him. Nothing! Lots of Sam Stevens' but not 'mine'.

    So, my question to those of you who are writers, do any of the names/characters come to you in dreams?

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    1. Ohhh - very interesting!!!! storylines come to me in dreams but not characters - I mostly dream about people I know.

      Perhaps Sam Stevens is waiting for you...!!! Look him up on Twitter! When I was about eleven, I dreamt about being in love. Of course, I had never been in love then. When I woke up I remember thinking, oh, that's how it's going to feel, then. So powerful, and kinda painful, too. Mind you, I've also dreamt about having murdered someone. Wouldn't want to experience that in real life - it was like being in a living hell. I shall now tweet this post again...!

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  10. I never thought about how important character names are before, but now I can see that of course they are. I've never really felt like much of a Jade, but I think I'm stuck with it now! xx

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  11. Oh, I think Jade's a cool name, and just right for cool you!!

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    1. Oh, that's so lovely of you to say! I have to say that I think you are far too strong to be a Theresa. Terry suits you much better xx

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