by David Dean
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (as if I needed to tell you that).
Easy for Juliet to have said, after all who doesn't know her name? I often think when I'm writing that all the good names have been taken. If there's one thing I find vexatious when conjuring up characters it's the naming of them. I blame Shakespeare and Dickens mostly. They got all the good ones. Let's face it, how are you going to top names like Romeo? You can hardly think of young love and lovers without it popping unbidden into your brain. As for villainy, how about Iago, or better yet in my book, the obsequious and insinuating Uriah Heep of David Copperfield? If you give a thought to pick-pockets what name jumps up at you? The Artful Dodger, perchance? Indecisiveness--Hamlet, anyone? Decay and bitterness? Need I say Miss Havisham? Need I go on? Those two guys used up all the good names! Never mind that they actually had to think them up. I'm sure any of us could have done it given enough time.
I'm seldom satisfied with the character names I come up with, they're all so ordinary and common. No Prosperos or Micawbers amongst them. I blame my generation. We all had common, ordinary names, nothing special to distinguish us. Every kid I knew was named David, Ricky, Susan, Rita, Mary, Tommy, Terry, Steve, Laura, Keith. Of course this was in the era before color was introduced into the world. Everything was in black and white, so our names had to be suitably bland as well. We didn't know any better during that gray time and thought it was just fine. As a result we are name-challenged...or at least I am.
I've tried different tactics with only low levels of success. In the beginning I worked the names of family into my stories. It was sort of an inside joke and they seem to get a kick out of it. But sometimes a name borrowed from one of my kids didn't fit the character I was creating. Then I was thrown back on my own creativity--not a happy place for me when it comes to names. So I would sit in front of my computer listlessly staring at a cursor pulsating with impatience for the "name". Lacking true inspiration I fell into lifting names from the authors of the books stacked up on my desktop. I would mix and match them. Clever, no? No...not particularly. None of them rose to "Ebenezer Scrooge" status and distinction. When I penned the suspense-filled actioner, "Tomorrow's Dead", the best name I could come up with for it's rugged protagonist was Byron. Byron? I ask ya. Not even a second cousin to a Mike Hammer, or a Sam Spade.
Mostly, I just stick with the near-generic names of my youth and experience. A story due out this year features a Terry, another a Helen. You can see my problem here. I did kinda go out on a limb with "Mariel" in a recent work--downright exotic for me. One of the few times I thought I got the name just right for the character.
So these are my trials and travails when it comes to the damnable name game. Don't even get me started on the more minor characters! I'm considering going to numerical designations when it comes to them, sort of like the bad guys in a 60's Bond film. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject, as I know from reading many of my fellow SleuthSayers works, no one has this problem but me. Everyone else is clever at naming. How about a little support?
Brother, can you spare a name? Got some loose monikers on ya? Hey, don't walk away from me...I know you got a few extra handles in your pocket!