What’s in a name?

I find that one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a novel is the creation of the characters’ names.

Take, for instance, Mr Sumo, my villain in Thurlow Junction. As I make clear: “He wasn’t Japanese. And he wasn’t a wrestler. But Mr Sumo was a very large man. And a very strong one.”

I wanted my villain to be the cool ninja-type who excels and glories in the absolute skill that he possesses – the art of killing people without use of weapons. I also visualised him wearing a huge red kimono and enjoying the beauty of his garden and the twittering of the birds.

Famous authors, also, think long and hard about their creations. For his novel 1984, George Orwell was looking for a character name which imparted the feeling of power and strength, as well as giving him an aura of a man of the people, an ‘Everyman’. So, when he wrote the book, completed in 1948 and published the following year, he chose the first name of the Prime Minister who had only recently guided us to victory in the Second World War and the most common surname in the country at that time. Thus, Winston Smith, one of literature’s greatest characters, was born.

George R R Martin, author of Game of Thrones, has gone on record as stating that he cannot write about a character until he has come up with the name. The family name Stark means “strong” or “sharp”.

One of my favourite authors, Lee Child, recounts the story of the birth of his most famous character. During a period of unemployment, he filled in by running errands, such as going to the supermarket for the elderly. One day, his wife pointed out that, as he was often taking things off the top shelves, perhaps he might get a permanent job as a “reacher”. Light-bulb moment. Jack Reacher had come into the world!

Holly Golightly, the charming socialite heroine of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, began life as Connie Gustafson. In fact, it was only when the hand-edited manuscript was auctioned in 2013 that it was seen that all instances of “Connie” were scratched out in red and “Holly” substituted. Perhaps a clear case of an author changing his mind at the last minute, this time clearly for the best.

See you next time!

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