The Perfect Character Name!

Cruella Morticia

Last week alone I lost up to three hours out of almost every night that I could have been sleeping, three hours of each day that I could have been writing, and I SERIOUSLY annoyed too many of my friends, ….all over trying to uncover THE perfect name for a single character. I blogged about it, I dreamt about it, I lay looking at the ceiling over it, and I kept turning on my phone in the middle of the night as each new brain wave came, as to how to find it! I googled thoughts and ideas, I searched through the cobwebs at the far deep dark corners of every baby naming site, and I asked loads of people for help. I honestly felt that just out of my reach, was THE perfect name!

I wanted my readers to think Cruella DaVil, Morticia (without the good or funny bits), and the Wicked Witch of the West, all rolled into one, the moment they read my character’s name. I wanted the name  to fit her not just like a glove, but like a flag waved above her evil head! I wanted the world to know exactly everything there is to know about this character the moment they read her name! … I was soooo sure that the name was on the tip of my tongue, just outside my reach, and that all I had to do was look in the right place, ask the right people, and suddenly it would appear and I would feel like SUCH an idiot for not thinking of exactly that right from the beginning!

And so I searched and searched. I could find all kinds of names that said exactly what I wanted them to say, but all the good ones are already taken (Cruella, Morticia etc) and the rest were such obscure names that I could never make them fly. Sure, if I was writing science or fantasy (or both), I could have a field day creating names either straight out of Greek or Ancient Egyptian Mythology, the Bible, or the perfect mixture made up from them all, but I sadly don’t write those kinds of books.

My characters are all real people that lived and breathed and (and many still do), and so what I was looking for may very well not even exist. But I was determined anyway… By the end of last week I was tired and frustrated, and was getting desperate…. “Oh just insert a different name for now and then batch change it at the end” they said. “Go and do something else for a few hours and it will just come to you” they said… And dozens and dozens of suggestions were made, both in how to find it and actual names that could work, none of which quite fit the bill, or even lessened my anxiety in the mean time.

Quite frankly I was quite concerned at how much angst this was causing me, I REALLY should be able to just let it go for later, but I couldn’t. Writing non-fiction but having to come up with a book name for each of the characters to protect identities is hard. I was loving the other names which were falling into place and so far all were layered with meaning after meaning, inside jokes and clever twists that only I and one or two others will ever know, but suddenly we were stuck. NOTHING was working for this person, and it was important for that it was no less significant that all the other characters.

And then someone made a suggestion that had LOADS of inside meanings, but I instantly dismissed it on the grounds that it was otherwise best described as completely benign. I have learnt over the last few weeks that short of the extremes like Cruella and Morticia, different names have such different associations for different people. That while some names like little Suzie and Johnny are quite broadly considered to be quintessential sweet innocent “butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth” names, …little Johnny could just as easily work perfectly for the little brat who put the frog in your school bag and little Suzie could just as easily be the child who stole your sweets!

And so suddenly this most average of names, that could so easily be considered anything from strong or weak, sweet or bitterly nasty, is perfect… but perfect in that it means so much to ME, even if no one else will ever know that. I realised in an instant that if I had introduced this character in my story as Morticia, the readers would all know in an instant that she is a bad guy. But real life doesn’t work that way! We often have no clue that someone is unsafe until they reveal their dark secrets. If I had a character called Morticia, I realise now that as my readers would meet her, from that moment on they would be saying to themselves, “well you silly girl, everyone knows that she is clearly evil, stay away from her!!” and that that is ACTUALLY not what I want at all.

I want them to get to know her as I got to know her, and it is my job talk walk my readers through that journey. didn’t know what she was capable of until she did them, so why would my readers? No bad guys are bad because of the name that their parent’s gave them, and the parent’s intentions (well usually anyway) when naming a new born baby, are for the child to have a good name and for the child to grow up to be as happy and well rounded as possible. No one has a baby and calls it Morticia because they know that it will grow up to be an evil witch that eats young children right?! And so it really shouldn’t matter what ANY of my characters are called for my kind of writing.

Sometimes when I meet someone I just know in my bones that they are not safe one way or another. I feel that they are a handful or won’t be good for me, and so I avoid them after that. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with their name, and rarely do truly bad people show anything wrong on first meeting. So it is MY job to build my characters and to SHOW you who I experience them to be. It is up to me to bring the reader in to experience these people and to help them to dread or fear and feel any early warnings (or not), and to be shocked as well as I was if there were no warnings at all. If you and I in real life don’t get warnings of people simply by their names, then maybe my readers shouldn’t either?

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