Friday, 19 July 2013

What’s In a Name?

Why posh breakfast cereal does not work and why you can’t call your characters thingy, whatsit or oogiemaflop.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post called ‘Warning, May Contain Nuts’ where I discussed the wording associated with breakfast cereal.  Actually, it was to do with my participation in the Taekwondo World Championships, for which I was trying, in vain it turned out, to be in my normal weight division, middle-weight.  The big day came and there I was, in my England suit, all prepped and ready to go.  I’d completed the training, denied myself chocolate and booze for, oh, several days, and I was ready to go.

My division was called up and I was taken away to be weighed.  I deliberately wore big knickers as I knew it would be touch and go and lo and behold, I was a few grams over.  So the belt had to come off, then the suit, and the Bridget Jones pants were there for all of the Skydome Arena to see.  If several hundred people are going to see you in your underwear, you might as well make a statement about it.  Unfortunately, no matter what I did, I could not lose that final few grams and I had to go into the heavy-weight division.  Actually, it wasn't so bad; I fought well but didn't progress enough and if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to someone nearly a foot taller than yourself.

The funny thing was an old pal of mine, who is very good, turned up.  She was very supportive throughout and coached me during my round.  She also happens to have the same initials as me, let’s say they were L Jay for my pen name’s sake, and she came second overall.  Excellent stuff, the other L Jay fought well and earned her place in the final.  Problem was, some people thought it was me who had got second place and for several days, came up to me to congratulate me.  No, my eyeballs would roll skywards, it wasn't me, it was the other L Jay; I went out in the first round because I was too porky to be in my normal division, but thanks for noticing anyway.

So what have I learnt from this?  1.  Apparently, hot weather does not suit me as a swell up like a balloon.  2.  Posh cereal does not work; I swear I was thinner when I used to eat Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes.  3.  Names are important.

And so now for the vague writing link.  While writing my new novel, I've been having a hell of a job choosing names for my main characters and I can’t think of a decent title.  You can’t keep calling your characters Bob, or Fred, or thingy.  So instead of calling my female characters Sarah 1, Sarah 2 and the other one, I put out a request on my Facebook page and got some much better suggestions.  So Savannah won and I really like it.  I called the other one Tamsin, a pseudonym for someone I knew who was not very nice.   That’s the beauty of fiction, you can do what you like to them.  After all, look what happened to Stewart in The Ghost Hunters’ Club novels …

Then there’s the title.  First I thought of ‘The Safest Place’ – already been used several times – ‘No Safe Place’ – already been used – ‘The Woman in Blue’ – sounds a bit like Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, only paler – ‘The Lady in Blue’ – sounds like the God awful song by Chris De Burgh Lady in Red – oh I don’t know.  So the working title is currently ‘Ashwood House,’ the name of the house that it’s set in.  Or it will be until I can think of a better idea.

So how do you think of names for your characters, and titles for your stories?  And any suggestions for my new novel would be most appreciated, as it currently runs the risk of being called, ‘Savannah Sees a Ghost and It Is Blue.’


  1. I'm wary of telling my title until publication day, as there's always the possibility it will be pinched (paranoid? Moi?) So if you hit on a really good one that hasn't been used, keep it to yourself. But I bet no one else has written a novel called 'Savannah Sees a Ghost and It Is Blue'.

    The heroine of my WIP is called Tyger Rebel Thomson. This name was wished on her by her New Age Traveller parents, and is a trial to her.

  2. I have a bunch of names I love and keep picking from them. I pick the name that suits the personality/class best. Vicky for an ordinary girl who could be anyone's girl next door. Scarlett for the drama queen, etc. Sometimes I name a character after someone, like Annabella who was a lifelong family friend and died recently or Bob who was my husband's much loved and missed black Labrador. The names come quite easy for most characters but sometimes I change them near the end of the book and have to do a massive FIND/REPLACE job. As for the names of the books....pfft! I change my mind as often as the weather. I have been known to write a whole story around a title rather than write the story first then think of the title. Odd, I know.

  3. No Safe Place + Ashwood House: Safe as Houses?

    Sophie :)

  4. titles are our kryptonite! A lot of our stories go unnamed for weeks and are called things like 'the train station story', or 'the ghost bride' (can you tell they're our recent ones, still unnamed :D) We often rely on song titles - thank god there's no copyright on them. We try to pick ones that aren't too obvious.

    As for names, if we're stuck, we consult a baby name book. Characters we don't like we names we don't like.

  5. Thanks Sophie - I think I might have to use that!

  6. Titles and names are hard. For me, the title is usually like a theme of the story. Names give the impression of what kind of character I'm using. Since you have Ghost in your two other titles, maybe make that kind of a theme that ties the series together??? The Ghost of Ashwood House John D. MacDonald always used a "color" in his Travis McGee series and Sue Grafton always used a letter of the alphabet for her mystery titles. Just a thought.