What’s In a Name?

Dorothy Cannell: Call me presumptuous but when it comes to my characters I am in Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.47.01 PMdisagreement with William Shakespeare’s assertion that ‘a rose by any other name smells just as sweet.’ Before putting type to paper I spend – could be said waste – an exorbitant amount of time endeavoring to fit or contrast first and last names to personality, physical appearance, means of employment, mannerisms, etc. This being the case I shouldn’t need to make the number of changes midstream that I invariably do.

One of the causes for this is suddenly realizing I have a couple, if not more, similar sounding names e.g. – Pilchard, Purdy, Pruitt, that will likely cause the reader to have to flip back through prior pages to see who I am talking about. Another is simply frivolous. A name will pop into my mind. I had a teacher called Miss Holdforth, met a Mrs. Lovely and Mr. Snidge – names too delightful not to be used for no other reason than to indulge myself. This said, the major disruptive factor to name choice is that characters often refuse to toe the line upon arriving on the scene.

In the book I am currently writing the new vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Dovecote Hatch Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.44.52 PMwas to be Adrian Macready, a handsome thirty-seven-year-old bachelor with fair hair and dark eyebrows. He stuck to his assigned marital status and eyebrows, but had chosen not to be a Scot. His hair has deepened to brown, and handsomeness was reduced to rugged good looks. He introduced himself as Aiden Forrest – the Adrian making for one R too many. There was no point in arguing with him. It would have made for more effort changing him from masterful to meek.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.44.29 PMThe sexton cum grave digger was set up in my head as Ezra Dewhurst – think hearse – a gaunt curmudgeon with a grim laugh and a hollow cough. But who showed up was a stout, cheery fellow incapable of not making himself helpful, welcome or not. After the initial irritation I was quite pleased because the alteration of his personality gave me the glimmer of an idea of how he could further serve the plot. On inquiry he informed me kindly his name was Jock Merriweather

And that’s just the start of who in this book wanted to be other than intended.   I wonder if other writers face these insurrections? Warning: There can be unfortunate results if alterations are not thoroughly checked. Global search and replace has its limitations. In my book Sea Glass Summer, I had a dog named Pocket because he was small enough to be put in one. Midway through I changed him to a large dog named Jumbo. This resulted in phrases such as “he stuck his hand in his Jumbo.”

Happy February


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11 Responses to What’s In a Name?

  1. Heidi Wilson says:

    Too many wonderful things in this post!

    1) Are those your roses? Can you actually grow David Austin roses in Maine?!!
    2) My current draft has five male characters whose names begin with R. I have no explanation.
    3) My fourth grade teacher’s name was Miss Kruschwitz. She did.
    4) I collect weird and wonderful names from real life. A couple of months ago, I offered them — no charge!! — to all my fellow writers on my blog. Take your share at http://thursdaynightwrites.com/2015/08/03/free-names/
    5) “He stuck his hand in his Jumbo.” … Moving right along….

  2. Barb Ross says:

    Thank you for this, Dorothy, as I am just a the point of naming a room full of characters.

    BTW–lots of Dorothy Cannell love going on at Wicked Cozy Authors today. https://wickedcozyauthors.com/2016/02/11/behind-the-scene-with-the-detectives-daughter/

  3. Coco Ihle says:

    Oh, Dorothy, I got such a kick out of this post! I have a huge pet peeve with authors who use names that start with the same letter or sound. And it happens far too often. But then, I am in my senior years. In a print book, it’s easier to go back to find who they are, but with an e-reader – not so much.

    Of course, as you pointed out so adeptly, there are dangers in trying to change names – midstream. Your example will have me chuckling for days, but I appreciate your effort!

  4. I am laughing so hard my belly hurts! Thank you, Dorothy. Happy February to you.

  5. Where do I send the bill, Dorothy? I need *another* new keyboard.

    Thanks for this delightful post. If I may add to the merriment…
    1. My current MMC is Arturo Delgado Martin. He prefers Del, but the inevitable “Artoo” (not my decision) led to a delightful bonding moment with the FMC’s young son.
    2. Small-town New England seems to be managed by a cadre of efficient senior women named Jean, Jane, or Joan. So when I wrote about a shelter set up after an ice storm, all of them made an appearance.
    3. I used to take my cats to a vet called Dr. Ostrich. They licked their chops.
    4. I’m very tempted to call a dentist Dr. Daniel Payne. Drive past that sign without a cringe.

  6. LOVED this posting.

    I like the intimate peek into how our wonderful minds work.


    Sharon Lovejoy

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