NANP: Names, Beasts, Roses
Posted by Abhinav Jain
The final guest on Names: A New Perspective for May is Francis Knight, the debut author of Fade To Black from Orbit (my review). The sequel, Before The Fall, is due quite soon as well. The highlight of Francis’ debut was the wonderful world she had created and the moral ambiguities that could be found therein. Fade To Black was a novel that stretched over several genres and was unique in its own way. I expect Before The Fall to offer a similar experience. In the meantime while the novel nears its release date, here’s what Francis has to say on the topic of names.
by Francis Knight
Names are tricksy beasties. On the one hand, a rose by any other name would no doubt smell as sweet. But would it be included in so many songs and poems if it was called a snodgrobble?
Our names are part of the face we present to the world. To a greater or lesser degree (depending on culture) they are part of who we are, what we are. Nicknames are, I think, often a way to present a different face to the world. The face you think you are. A different name changes how people look at you, for good or ill.
Where I live, almost everyone has a nickname. There are people I’ve known ten years and I still don’t know their ‘real’ name. And the nicknames can be different depending on the circle they are interacting with at the time – a new name for a new face.
I’m trying one on for size myself. Francis is not my real name, it’s a pen name, sort of an official nickname. Yet when I interact as ‘Francis’ I’m still me….I’m just a slightly different version of me. I am also ‘Mum’ to my kids, ‘Jay’ to some of my work colleagues (my real name starts with a J). Only my Mum even calls me by my full (real) first name, and only if she’s cross with me. Online, if you find me I’ll probably be called Kissmequick (long story, don’t ask) or Mr Flibble. I spent several years on a forum being called ‘IdiotsRUs’, or Idiot for short. Mum and Jay are responsible people, who get things done. Kissmequick, Idiot and Mr Flibble are…not (you could guess that from the names, right?). They’re silly and irresponsible and have smut on the brain, are serious only about writing, but very occasionally say sensible things. Francis is all of those, but she’s also not. When I go to an event as Francis, I get my brain in gear as her, not exactly as me.
All of this is leading up to – how to name characters. Does a name make a difference to how they act? How they are perceived? Does the name change who they are? On the surface, you’d perhaps think not. But then, I’ve heard people say things like ‘Oh, I’ve never met an Andy I liked’ or ‘I couldn’t call my kid Hubert, because my Uncle Hubert was a git’. ‘You don’t look like a Charlie!’ and so on. Names telegraph things, intentionally or otherwise. If I told you I had three characters, one called Jacinda Fforbes-Featherstone-Phipps, another called Edith Carbuncle and the third called Birgit Haarstad then almost certainly you will conjure an expectation from those names. An expectation which may, or may not, be borne out. Class, probability of wealth, of accent, region of birth or nationality, etc. Nicknames, on the other hand, telegraph different things, things that are probably more important to the owner (or at least more likely to accurately portray them, unless it’s ironic and that also tells us something). Someone nicknamed Pitbull is less likely to be shy and retiring than someone nicknamed Flower.
Knowing this makes it all that much easier to name a character, once a question or two are answered. Is the character going to be typical of the name s/he has? Or go against expectations? Is his or her name going to be typical of where and when they are from, and if not, why not? Has this name shaped his or her life in any way? (I’m always reminded here of A Boy Named Sue) Do they use their name, or a nickname? Do they like their name, or do they wish the ground would open up and swallow them when they are forced to say it? Why?
All these things will affect your character, however peripherally, and how they move through life. And that’s the start of characterisation, and why once I’ve picked a name for a character it’s very hard for me to change it without changing the character.
The next guest on the blog, the first for June, is Elizabeth Bear, and her post will go up on the 3rd. You can find a full schedule in the link up top. I will be adding some new dates to it, for July, very soon, hopefully by this weekend.
Posted on May 30, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged 2013 Debut, Debut Authors Guest Series, Dystopia, Fade To Black, Fantasy, Francis Knight, Gritty, Guest Posts, Meaning of Names, Names, Names A New Perspective, Noir, Orbit Books, Rojan Dizon, Urban Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.