Thursday, June 3, 2010

On character names

I have only ever met two people names Fred. One of them, a kid, was one of those types you cannot help but like the second you meet them (and I am not just saying that because his mother may be reading this). The other was a teacher that I, for various reasons that shall not be mentioned here (since some of them were better reasons than others), did not particularly like. Apart from these two, the only Freds I have known are characters of literature, movies and television, ranging from Fred Flintstone to the man who eventually ends up as Diana’s husband in Anne of Green Gables (yes, those were the first two that sprung to mind. Yes, it is a weird mind).


My experience with the name Fred, then, has been limited, but varied. Consequently, I don’t have any particular quality connotations with this name as I so often do with other names. And yet, it appears to be my go to name when I am at loss for naming a character.

In my current WiP, which is based on a idea I have had for years, but that I only started writing seriously last November (and now intend to complete[-ish] for BuNoWriMo), I suddenly discovered that I had no less than three characters named Fred.

Now, this can be okay in very special circumstances (maybe these characters share a special bond because they have the same name?), but generally it is advised against because it most likely will lead to confusion. In my case, the three Freds was not the result of a conscious decision at all, but rather an easily-fixed mistake.

The first Fred is a very minor character who normally would not get to have a name at all (had it not been for the fact that his name is written, ahem, somewhere, which is sort of the point of his entire appearance in the story). So Fred # 1 gets to stay, though I am considering changing his name to something “less Fred”, but equally neutral. Maybe Ted?

The second Fred is the doorman in my main character’s office building. This is a reoccurring character, so he gets to have a name, but again I don’t want anything too characteristic or descriptive. Thus, he will have to have his name changed. At this point I am thinking Frank (though “Frank the doorman” sounds familiar. I might have to google that to see what comes up. Ach! The show Samantha Who? has a Frank the doorman, played by Tim Russ. Hm… What about Tim the doorman?).

The third Fred is the one I am least happy about. The other two can be explained by my need to find a non-descriptive name (which Fred appears to be to me) for relatively unimportant characters. Fred the Third, though, is not so unimportant. He is a semi-important character (my protagonist’s boss), who needs a proper name and a proper back-story (at least to me – it probably won’t go into the actual book). The fact that I failed on both accounts just means I haven’t done my job.

So, Fred the Third had to be renamed (for the moment he is David, but I am still testing it out), and I will think about what sort of background he has. People as self-important as Fred #3/David really should always have a reason to be so…

Finally, (no more Freds, I swear), I have a problem with my main character’s name as well. Her first name is fine – even she started out as something else but for several years now she has been Claire, and I am happy about that. Her last name, though, continues to bother me. I originally called her Claire Bennett, as a funny little reference to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (although one that makes no sense, since she acts nothing like any of the Bennett sisters). Or at least I thought that was why I called her that.

One day, though, it occurred to me that this name sounded a little familiar too. Not familiar as in “I am going crazy because I now thinks my character is a real person”, but more as in “where have I heard that combination before”? Again, I googled, and guess what… As many of you will have realized by now, I am not the only one who thought Claire Bennett was an appropriate name for a character. So did the creators of Heroes. I am not convinced I would win the lawsuit against NBC claiming I came up with that name first, so I’m just gonna silently change it. I haven’t made up my mind yet, though, so at the moment my heroine is simply called Claire Lastname.

11 comments:

Clarissa Draper said...

I wouldn't worry about the name Claire Bennett because Heroes is over and soon no one will remember that name anymore.

CD

Cruella Collett said...

Clarissa - I guess, but to me it now only translates to that particular character and that is just WRONG... Thanks for the heads up, though :)

Watery Tart said...

*giggles at Fred issues*

Confluence had two Marty's for a while and Marty isn't particularly common here. Fred in the US seems to be an 'out of fashion'--so men maybe 50 and older--though our neighbors have a son Frederick (family name) who they call Fritz. But you can LEAVE one of them Fred, yes? (Fred seems a reasonable boss name)...

I hate that 'use a name them find someone with it' thing... you don't want to pick a really wacky name, but common names DO tend to run that risk... Don't forget to mix up first letters, number of syllables and all that... (I am terrible that way--CONSPIRACY has an Andrei, Andrea and Athena as primary characters--Andrei is Athena's dad, so the similar letters is explainable, but Andrea needs to be renamed.)

Kassy with a K said...

It's kind of interesting that you named all these characters Fred, but didn't realize it. Seems like you could use that as your fill-in name when you can't think of a name (as I never can).

I really like the name Claire. :)

And, Tami, I have the same problem. I have a Nate and a Natalie that my main character insists upon calling Nat sometimes, and I feel like they are too similar, but I can't bring myself to change either of them yet. Oh, and I had to mention.. said main character is named Andrea (Andie). Haha.

Cruella Collett said...

Tami - sure I could keep a Fred, but I think it would be clever of me not to, since all previous experience shows me there will be at least one unexpected Fred towards the end... *snort*

I remember writing a snipped about character names in the Burrow a long time ago. Perhaps I should take a look at it and consider making it a blog post (cheating, I know, but whatever saves me time when I am trying to rhyme. I'm not actually trying to rhyme, but it rhymed...)

Kassy - I know, how hard can it be to come up with character names? But somehow it is my nemesis. Thank Digression for baby naming sites. (I really like both Nate and Natalie, but I can see how that would get confusing. It's probably not as problematic when they have different genders, though.)

Tundiel said...

*snort* Mari, you're fabulous, but you knew that already....

I don't really worry about character names. There isn't a unique name in the world (well, there probably is actually)as far as I'm concerned. There are far too many other things to worry about when writing. Like writing, for instance. *nods*

Cruella Collett said...

Tara - I know that a fabulous person (yes, you) thinks I am fabulous ;) And yes, writing is an important thing to worry about when writing... (You have great names, though! Even if you can't spell them *giggles*)

Tundiel said...

But I CAN spell them! I just haven't mastered the TYPING of them.... *shifty*

I actually meant to comment on today's oatbean blog, but somehow I ended up here. *scratches head* Not that the oatbean comment was going to be anything spectacular ("Mari, you should know by now that when you can't think of the correct word, then either make one up or use 'thingy' instead, whichever suits"), but still....

*wanders off to procrastinate somewhere else*

Watery Tart said...

Nathan was my boy's name if Natalie had been a boy, and yes, before we knew she was a Natalie, we called the baby Nat (much to my mother's consternation--her image there was gnat, which is NOT really baby-appropriate--but you know how I like to consternate my mother)

Cruella Collett said...

Tara - you're right, what was I thinking. I should have kept writing "that thing you cook your food on" or "that thing you cook your food in" all through the post. With my foreign language difficulties with prepositions, that would not have gotten confuusing at all :P

Tartini - teehee, I almost wish you'd named Natalie Gnatalie now.. (Now THAT is a character name I could get into..)

Kassy with a K said...

I was supposed to be Natasha until my dad pointed out to my mom that "satan" is in Natasha, backwards. When she told me this, she mentioned Natalie, too, and I've always really liked that name. And Nate is one of my favorite boy names. I just still can't figure out how I managed to name two of the three characters closest to my main character such similar names.

Oh and speaking of foreign language prepositions.. why are they so darned difficult?? I always struggled with them in German class. Heck, I still mix up prepositions in English sometimes..

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