You Name It!

But name it well! A poorly-named character in a book or story can leave a bad taste in a reader’s mouth, and can even negatively affect the credibility of the author and his work.
Case in point: Years ago, I was with my mother in a bookstore. She was browsing through a book, a suspense novel, I believe. After a very short time she put the book back on the shelf and said “Nah, I don’t think so.” I asked why, and she explained, as if it should be obvious, “Well, for one thing the main character’s name is Tiffany!”
Now, I happen to like the name Tiffany, but there’s no denying that it carries a certain stereotype along with it. A certain, rather strong stereotype. So strong that, ten or fifteen years later, though I have no idea what the plot of the book was, I can imagine it: a flimsily-constructed, not-very-believable quasi-mystery novel, where more attention was paid to designer clothes and expensive and exotic locales than to the actual plot, and the plot mainly revolved around the sparks flying between the beauteous Tiffany and the smoldering, dangerous bad guy.
Margaret Mitchell must have understood the importance of her characters’ names. When she began writing “Gone With the Wind,” her main character was named Pansy OHara, but of course we know her as Scarlett. Nobody knows exactly why Mitchell changed her mind abot Pansy, but I would like to think she thought about it for a minute and realized that Pansy just didn’t fit the kind of stubborn, tempestuous heroine she had in mind. Pansy, in fact, sounds like Prissy’s twin sister: whiny, flighty, and no use at all in an emergency.
Now, Scarlett! There’s a name that is bold and shameless and which refuses to be dismissed or denied! The kind of name (and woman) that could drive many a man to ruin! (I find it significant that Miss OHara’s full name is Katie Scarlett, yet Mitchell chose never to have her go by Katie.)
I’ll have a great deal more to say about the importance of character (and real-life) names in the future. Watch this space!

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2 Responses to “You Name It!”

  1. Antoine Says:

    With a name like Scarlett, one develops a certain appreciation for the woman before one ever sees her! Another favorite name: Thomas Gradgrind, notorious headmaster in Dickens’s “Hard Times”: “The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders—nay his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat…”

    • ghostscribe Says:

      Mr. Dickens was pretty good at coming up with descriptive names for his characters. Granted, they aren’t always very believable, (has any phone book ever had an entry for anybody named Crisparkle?) but they were sure colorful. Ebenezer Scrooge! The very name carries the sound of purse-strings being yanked tight!

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