Saturday, 14 June 2014

Guardian Books Blog: Complaints about Characters' Names






Poor child, has the worst character name ever




Today’s entry appears on the Guardian Books Blog, and is a complaint (rant) that sometimes authors make really bad choices when they are naming their characters. Sometimes they are unfortunate or unlucky (Titty and Dick Diver), and sometimes they are ugly (Phlox), and sometimes they are misleading. The subject gets a good going over here, but more examples always welcome in the comments.

This is part of the Guardian piece:


It might seem unreasonable to complain about the names authors choose for their characters – it's their choice after all. But some writers could clearly do with a little help. 
Take Swiss author Joël Dicker's international bestseller The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. His policeman is called Sergeant Perry Gahalowood – plainly a name made up by a non-native who thinks it sounds American. As this thriller has literary pretensions, perhaps it is a tip of the hat to Louis-Ferdinand Celine, who made up the totally-wrong name O'Collogham for a British character in his London Bridge.

Daytime TV watchers who have just finished catching up on the 1974 series of The Pallisers are left with the same burning question which has confronted readers of the books. Why on earth did Anthony Trollope give a serious, formal and pompous man the wholly suitable name of Plantaganet Palliser, but then tell us his friends call him Planty Pall? 

It's obviously a really terrible idea to give your characters names that are normal words in their own right, tripping up the reader time after time. We might be able to live with Will or Mark, but in Gillian Flynn's 2012 bestseller Gone Girl, there is a character called Go (short for Margo) and that leads to such infelicities as these: 

Sharon turned to Go. They will go after Go. Go stayed. Go, an expert panel of one. Go said "Go home." 

I have tried really hard to believe there is some metaphysical plot reason for calling her that – at one point board games are mentioned, and I hoped they were going to Advance to Go – but no. There is no excuse.

Guillermo Martinez is guilty of something similar in The Oxford Murders, where one of the major characters is called Arthur Seldom. So: "Seldom smiled", "he asked Seldom", "Seldom opened one of the doors" …







Even she doesn't deserve the name Phlox



The piece also features blog favourite Michael Chabon and his Mysteries of Pittsburghon the blog here, and E Nesbit and the important Five Children and It, featuring the young woman called Panty. Anyone got a better one than that?

19 comments:

  1. Panty us pretty darned good. Couldn't find one better.
    Now "Go" in Gone Girl, a big turn-off. The 250 uses of that word
    just to "go" to the supermarket would turn me off right away...too cutesy.

    Now my favorites of late are Dorte Jakobson's characters: Rhapsody, Psalmonella (with a P no less!) and Harmonia Gershwin. Can anybody outbeat those sisters' names? I love them.

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    1. Nice find there Kathy, they are certainly unique names.

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  2. I think it's entirely possible that Nesbit meant "Panty" to be amusing; she was quite a liberated woman for her time! Note that it is *only* the baby brother who calls her this. Her other brothers and sister call her "Panther", but "the Lamb" can't pronounce it. Incidentally, his real name is pretty awful - Hilary St Maur Devereux!

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    1. I wondered if it simply didn't have that meaning at that time? I think she does pretty good names generally, but I feel sorry for the Lamb, now, as well....

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  3. Moira - Lovely post! And so spot on. Names really do make a difference - they really do. Your post made me think of Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara, who was originally supposed to be called Pansy. Now I'm busily thinking of names in crime fiction novels...

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    1. Thanks Margot, I really enjoyed writing this one. And yes, very good point about Mitchell - Pansy really wouldn't have been the same thing at all, would it? And I'll be looking forward to a future Confessions blog entry.

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  4. You have pointed to some very unfortunate names for characters. The only names that bother me are silly names intended to be funny. And I don't know why. I think I lack a sense of humor.

    I looked up your post about Mysteries of Pittsburgh, since I want to read more books by Chabon and wanted to know what you thought of it. Glad to hear you liked it and find the movie worth watching too. Another book I will have to look for.

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    1. I don't particularly like silly names, but they don't bother me that much - although several people told me they hated them. I am a really big Michael Chabon fan, I hope you like Mysteries of Pittsburgh if you read it.

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  5. Can you highly recommend a particular book by Michael Chabon? Because my TBR stacks and lists now feel like avalanches waiting to snow me under, I'm only trying one book by various suggested authors.

    I've heard mixed reviews of The Yiddish Policemen's Union and positive reactions to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

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    1. My favourite is Wonder Boys - there's a couple of entries on the blog about it. Excellent film too!

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  6. Dick Diver - I wouldn't mind reading about her!

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    1. We can always rely on you to raise the tone Col....

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    2. There was so much more I could have said.......

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  7. But when an author has a knack for character names it can be a joy. Chandler had the gift: Orfamay Quest, Jules Amthor, Eddie Mars, Mavis Weld …

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    1. Oh you're right, they are excellent. I hadn't thought of him as such, but he is good at names. Carmen Sternwood also.

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    2. Love Carmen Sternwood. And also, I'd forgot: Helen Grayle.

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  8. Coming back to this essay, which I'm rereading, I see the name Seldom in The Oxford Murders. I remember that I was put of a few times when Seldom began a sentence.

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    1. Yes, I can see why an author might not notice, but another reader or editor should point it out to the writer I think...

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