Monday, 12 March 2012

*@!!*$%! names

Cardygirl had a cute suggestion for Baby Duck’s new name: “Duck Dodgers of the 21st Century”. Of course Baby Duck would have to have it explained to him, not being of the right vintage to get the reference. The Carnivore also offered “What the Duck” as an option. That man amuses himself greatly.

Why are names so difficult? Shakespeare reckons “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but being right doesn’t change the fact that names matter. We all have different associations with different names – which makes getting two people to agree on a name for a baby a hell of a job. Thank goodness I only had to do it three times.

Plus I cheated by not letting the Carnivore have a say the third time. I mean, I ask you – how would you feel if, after protracted negotiations with your beloved over the name of your second child, in which, in the spirit of loving compromise, you gave up the middle name you had your heart set on in favour of the one he wanted, which you didn’t even like – only to have him ask a few weeks later: “what’s her middle name again?”??

“That’s it! I’m picking the next one’s name All On My Own.”

I always wished they came with a name already attached. Picking names is so hard. There’s all the ones you can’t stand because you used to know someone you didn’t like who had that name, plus the ones you can’t stand just because they’re gross, or oldfashioned, or they sound hideous with your surname. Then there’s the ones you like but so does everyone else and there’d be bound to be three of them at least in the same class at school. Or the ones you like but someone you know has already used them. Or even the ones you like but the family expects you to use in honour of some dead relative so you refuse to even consider them.

Fortunately I’m not having any more children, so I don’t have to negotiate that particular minefield again. Unfortunately I’m a writer, so naming characters is part of the job description. Whole books full of them, dammit. I hate naming characters.

I’ve been working on an outline for a new novel lately. I’m about a quarter of the way through and I’m completely stuck. Why? Because I don’t know what anyone’s name is! It sounds ridiculous, I know. I’ve been using X and Y, or role descriptions like “the ex”, “the ex’s best friend”, and that’s got me so far, but I’m at the point now where I really need to know my characters and what motivates them before I can figure out any more of the story. So I have to know their names. I mean, an “Erin” sounds like a very different person to a “Katie” or even a “Phyllis” or “Muriel”, to take it to extremes.

I’ve been going through baby name books and internet sites, in search of my perfect character names. No luck so far. I’m in awe of people who are good at this. JK Rowling, for instance. “Sybil” for a seer? So clever! And what about “Sirius Black”? I love that one! Sirius, of course, is the name of the dog star. And what does Sirius Black turn into? A black dog. Genius.

So I’m squirming like a worm on a hook here, knowing that names are important, and the right ones will help capture my characters, but unable to find them. Did I mention I hate naming people?

I even made this cute little crochet owl the other day, following this pattern, and I can’t think of a name for him either.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have to name the owl, Marina. It’s just a stuffed toy. And it doesn’t even look like an owl.

I know you’re right, but he’s just sitting on my desk staring at me, all vague and nameless. Sad, unloved and nameless. Accusing, almost. What kind of mother are you? If you really cared you’d give me a name. And stop letting people say I don’t look like an owl.

Sorry, buster, you really don’t look like an owl. The original did, but I think I overstuffed you. You look more like a sparrow with a really big butt. Maybe an overweight robin.

Hey, I could call him Robin. Robin the Owl.


  1. Picking names is tough...our current fish is Prosper, the GOLD fish! I like classics...what about Octavius the Owl?

    1. Prosper the goldfish is pretty awesome. I wanted to call two of our goldfish Fish and Chips but the kids wouldn't let me!

  2. How about Dynamo Duck or The Dynamic Duck for the boy? And--Cornelius for the owl. Just because.

    I have such a hard time naming my characters. And my books, for that matter.

    1. Sadly the boy is anything but Dynamic! Dozy Duck would probably fit better. I like Cornelius -- sounds very serious and wise!

  3. Cornelius would be a great name for the owl. It implies intelligence and wisdom (for me). Finding the right name can be quite a pain for me too, although I hardly ever look at baby-name books. Usually, the names for my main characters are easier than those for minor ones, probably due to the fact that I know so much more about MCs. Good luck with finding the right names.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with names!