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Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Characters' Names

It's interesting in real life how many people seem to suit their names and how quickly people make snap judgements about someone just hearing their name. Some names seem to reflect a particular status, others a religion, others - especially diminutives - even suggest something about a person's physical appearance.

Dickens, the master of memorable names, knew this so well. How many of his characters' names say a lot more about the person than any long description: the hypocrite, Pecksniff; the slimy Uriah Heap; miserly Scrooge; the hard-hearted Murdstone, Headstone and Gradgrind....and of course the Artful Dodger.

Dickens' brilliance in creating the apt-name is now so legendary that it lends itself to satire; episodes of 'French and Saunders' to 'Blackadder' have used similarly, if exaggerated names that in one word capture the idiosyncrasies of a character. Writers now surely, then, have to be less obvious than Dickens but there is still a great deal to be said for choosing memorable and appropriate names....if, indeed, the writer actually 'chooses' the name. It seems that very often, the moment a character is 'born' into a story in the writer's mind, he/she comes with the name in place already. It sometimes feels as though the character, name and all, already exists on some other plane, and the writer merely records what is already there....

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