Thursday, September 1, 2011

why do writers love great names?

I'm sure I'm not the only writer on Earth who is prone to falling in love with a beautiful, or even just plain quirky, name. I know that when I name one of the people in my stories, I try to make it reflect some aspect of his or her character or life and I notice most writers do the same thing.

But even more than great made up names, I love great true life names. Hannah Blyth is a Welsh teenager who discovered an asteroid while on work experience at a telescope laboratory - so they've named the asteroid after her. How fantastic! Along with Halley's and Hale Bopp, we will now have Hannah Blyth out there floating about.

It makes me think of some of my other favourite names.

I fell in love with Harvey Milk some years ago when I read The Mayor of Castro street by Randy Shilts. My friend told me it was the just the latest in a long line of unavailable men I'd fallen for but Harvey was hit for six right out of the park unavailable, even for me; he was rampantly gay and had been dead for about 40 years. Apart from everything else appealing about him, I thought his name was so beautifully nutty - but then I read that his mother had been christened Minerva and she was known as Minnie Milk. His uncle was Morrie Milk.

I remember a year or so ago a woman came into The Incidental Bookshop and bought some books on credit. When I checked the receipt for her signature, I couldn't believe what I saw. I probably actually gawked at that completely average looking old credit card slip because, well, on it was written one of the most amazing names I'd ever seen.

Joy Bliss.

I must say I was sceptical as I looked at that name, thinking it must have been a scam, a fake card or at the least, the result of a deed poll change. But when I looked up and into the face the owner of that phantasmagorical label, I was reassured that the human who stood before me was indeed both joy and bliss personified. She was a fit old lady, I guess you would say spry, with a magnificently cheeky smile and eyes that emitted feel-good rays like an old time movie robot's emitted bad ones.

'You're kidding;' I said to her. 'That's really your name?'

'Oh, yes,' she said cheerfully. 'I married it, of course. My husband's name was Bob - but everyone called him Happy. So we were always Happy and Joy Bliss.'

Mrs Bliss (Miss-is Bliss - oh, glorious natural rhyme!) assured me they were well named and that their life together had been divine; I have no reason not to believe her. Though I didn't specifically ask, it was obvious from the things she said that Happy Bliss was no longer with us but it didn't seem to have daunted her optimism.

I smiled every time I thought of her for the rest of the day and just before I went to sleep that night, I noted how apt the name was; she had certainly brought a little bit of joy into the day of this retail imprisoned writer.

I once met another gorgeous old woman named Shirley Turley. She had also married into her moniker and I laughed when she said, 'That's how you know you're in love; when marriage is going to stick you with a poem for a name and you still say I do.'

I was once trying to name a character who was a fiery, optimistic, young Irish woman. I was thinking something like Truman Capote's Holly Golightly would be perfect but it takes a lot of storymaking skill to make a name like that seem real. I picked up my local paper one morning that week and on the front page, was the picture of a young mother named Bridie Lightbound who had started a support group for the wives of servicemen stationed in war zones. I christened my story girl Bridie Lightfoot; it was the perfect name for her.

I'd love to know about any great names you've seen - leave me a comment about it. I promise not to steal them if you tell me that you're a writer and may use it yourself sometime.

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