26 May 2013

‘Words have meaning and names have power’

A lot of years ago I had a short-term work contract at a university in Wales. To be honest, I don’t actually remember much about the job, but what I do remember is the large database of student names.

The full name of each student was captured, and while there were some interesting first names, there were many more unusual middle names.

Names tell a lot about a person. They are generally a good pointer to age, famous celebrities of the time, and in the UK they are also an indicator of social status. They also say a lot about the parents.

A few of those names have stuck in my mind. One male student was named after several famous soccer players – his father was obviously an ardent Manchester United fan. Among the females was a Tamsin Tinuviel and another girl called Arwen, their parents would have been fans of Tolkein, or at least had read Lord of the Rings.

Before Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple, I knew a lady called Brie.

Choosing names for my characters is something that takes time, and the names are often changed several times as I get to know the characters.

In my current novel, Lies of the Dead, the names of the three main characters never changed. I think that is a first for me.

The oldest of the three siblings is Tom. He is pragmatic and reliable, and (to me) this name fits him well. I didn’t look up the origin or meaning of the name, so I may have it completely wrong, but for me it suited him totally.

Andi is the middle sibling, her name is Andrea but she shortened it to Andi as a child, hoping it would make her mother love her more. How sad is that!

Liam is the youngest of the three. He is always called that, though we discover early on his full name is William, which he hates.

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says, ‘What’s in a name?’  I think the answer to that is everything.

‘Words have meaning and names have power.’ 

Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable.’ W.H.Auden

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