The naming game

Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan, was born in 1889, the year after the 'real' Tarzan's birth. He wears the rope and locket described in the book, though his headband may be there to keep his wig on.
Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan, was born in 1889, the year after the ‘real’ Tarzan’s birth. He wears the rope and locket described in the book, though his headband may be there to keep his wig on. Here Tarzan is teaching himself to read using a picture book.

I’ve talked before about character names in fiction, for example in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and in Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I’ve noted that certain authors are drawn to choosing significant names for their protagonists, authors such as A S Byatt in The Biographer’s Tale and in Angels & Insects. Donna Leon chose to call her truth-seeking heroine in The Jewels of Paradise Pellegrini, after the Italian name for a pilgrim, and the magizoologist Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them bears names that mark him out as a scientist (Newton) whilst also being able to transform (from larva to eft to newt) and survive in different environments (the newt, a kind of salamander, lives both in water and on land, while the Scamander is a river near ancient Troy).

Yet it appears that many authors don’t go in for universally significant or symbolic names for their leading men and women, especially when it comes to realistic novels set in a contemporary world. For example, Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child has the parents of Luke, Helen, Jane, Paul and Ben simply as David and Harriet Lovatt, and unless these names had personal significance for the author (as a difficult ‘family’ member had for Lessing’s life) I can’t see that these are anything other than what any ordinary middleclass family might choose. Again, in Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January is it apparent that Rydal Keener or the couple Chester and Colette MacFarlane have anything special about their names other than they seem typically North American? Perhaps the fact that Chester and Rydal are both derived from place names is more noteworthy than I can fathom.

But if the characters’ names neither obviously conform to the conventions of their setting nor have a personal resonance for the author (or at least one that they wish to share) do we have to fall back on significance or symbolism as guiding spirits? What do online gurus have to say about choosing the names of characters? I’ve selected three of these advisers.

Continue reading “The naming game”

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Snail’s creep

book collection

We’re nearly halfway through November, and the end of the year is within touching distance. It’s nearly time to start taking stock of how my 2016 goals are progressing (as I’ve already done, back in July). Taking my author alphabet challenge I find I’m just five short of completion, with O, Q, U, X and Y yet to come. The good news is that I’ve lined up some books to cover three of these — Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, Xenophon’s The Persian Expedition and some short stories edited by Jessica Yates — though I’ve yet to decide on who to choose for U or Q.

Authors read in 2016 (L: library copy and indicates recycled)

Continue reading “Snail’s creep”

No Land is an Island

John Donne as a young man
John Donne as a young man

Yes, you read that right — I haven’t forgotten what John Donne really wrote (No Man is an Island, in case you need reminding). I’m referring to the EU Referendum vote that will be taking place a couple of days after Midsummer’s Day, when the people currently living in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be asked a simple Yes/No question:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

(or, as Welsh speakers will see it, A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?)

I won’t go into the convoluted political details of why this question is being asked now. The steam coming out of my ears and the air being turned blue would thoroughly obscure any rational arguments for or against. But my concern is simply that the UK might throw the baby out with the bathwater because of the xenophobia that is being whipped up by some sections of the media.

Xenophobia is a nasty word for a nasty thing. Continue reading “No Land is an Island”