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Helen Harper

A rose by any other name?

  • July 19, 2015
  • Blog
  • 2 Comments

There’s a lot of power in names. As a teacher, at the start of each new school year, I was fortunate enough to learn the names of my students quickly. It’s by the far the easiest and quickest way to build a relationship and to show respect. Knowing the students’ names is vital for any sort of classroom management. There were always a couple of classes where I’d get some students’ names forever mixed up – typically they were already friends and sat together and giggled together. It wasn’t that I didn’t know their names. It was that I’d have a brain fart and use the wrong one, much like the students who’d call me mum. For anyone who’s not a teacher, that’s more common than you’d think!

 

The trouble for me was that as soon that year was over and those students graduated or moved onto to a different teacher, I forgot their names almost as quickly as I’d learnt them. I didn’t forget the students but my brain could only hold so much. I’ve lost count of the times old students have come back to say hello and, while I could remind them of the fabulous story or poem or essay they once wrote, I’d often not remember their actual name. This was painfully apparent last week when a former student appeared at the school where I volunteer. My brain went into meltdown and I blurted out the wrong name. There was considerable ensuing embarrassment.

 

Equally, it’s unfortunate that some names on a class list of unknown students flag immediate warnings. Fear the Chantelles, the Britneys, the Jodies, the Kyles, the Connors and the Jacks. It’s not fair – I know. I’m sorry if this comes across as too Katie Hopkins.  It’s difficult to avoid though. Check out this article if you’re interested.

 

Still, I often find myself in a similar quandary as a reader. Sometimes, I will give up on a book a few chapters in but I dislike the name of the protagonist so much that I can’t face reading any more. I had those tables turned on me a couple of weeks ago when a beta reader returned a book with a comment that some of the names didn’t fit the characters. I could see her point and I changed a few of them. The trouble is that the book’s set in Scotland and the series will be called Highland Magic. So I changed Finn to Aifric and Al to Ruaridh. Now I’m thinking I’ll probably have to change them again because most readers outside of the Highlands will simply be puzzled (any advice here would be welcome! Feel free to leave a comment!).

 

I’d love to be able to be as clever as Charles Dickens or JK Rowling when it comes to naming characters. The main character of the afore-mentioned Highland Magic series is a thief called Integrity. But that’s nothing compared to the wonders of Dolores Umbridge or Ebenezer Scrooge. And consider how beautifully Anna Karenina trips off your tongue. The name itself is pure poetry. Or how about Boo Radley? I was disappointed he was absent from Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. But that’s as much because I love his name as his character.

 

Huckleberry Finn, anyone?

Photo by NatalieMaynor

2 Comments
  • Elizabeth Patti • 19th July 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Naming characters can be difficult at times! For this reason, I have several name generators bookmarked; just in case I need to flit through names to find one that seems to fit. I am not sure why you say that readers outside of the Highlands would be puzzled by the names. I think most readers don’t look too deeply into the validity of names unless it is quite obvious that the name does not fit the region (I could be wrong though).

    I do like the name Aifric over Finn. Aifric sounds much more exotic and exciting. Finn is a little dull and sounds like a bull-in-a-china-shop name (but that could also be because I associate the name with Finnick from ‘The Hunger Games’).

    Ruaridh, for me, is a name that would trip me in reading. Since there is not an immediate phonic sound to it, my poor American brain would skip over the name each time it is presented. Though, even as I type this, my gaze drifts back to the name and tries to ‘sound-it-out’. That can be bad in a story since I’m being distracted from the story by the name.

    • Helen Harper
      Helen Harper • 19th July 2015 at 9:46 pm

      Hmm, yes, that was my concern with Ruaridh. I should probably tone it down to something more manageable. The trouble is that he’s now Ruaridh in my head after being Al for so long. The poor guy (non-existent as he is) will be getting a complex…! Thank you, Elizabeth 🙂

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