Oscar Wilde once said, “it is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things.”
In the story of Adam and Eve, in the book of Genesis, God parades all the creatures he has made in front of them and gets them to name them. You get a sense that there is a tremendous amount of joy to be found in being able to find the right name for the right creature. The naming of things is an intrinsic part of creation and creativity. In us, is a natural desire to call something by name.
The first thing I ever remember naming was ‘pink rabbit’. Perhaps not the most original of names, none-the-less, it gave me great joy to be able to choose it. 40+ years on, I still have ‘pink rabbit’ and love her as much as I did when I was a small child, learning to speak.
Since then, I have named countless cars, my first being ‘Slurp’, partly due to the numberplate, and partly its penchant for guzzling gas. My latest is ‘Percy’ a.k.a ‘His Grace’. It’s a family joke, but Percy is also a Polo and a little bit of alliteration never did anyone any harm.
We name pets, vehicles, cuddly toys, houses, towns. We name everything on the periodic table of the elements, and even every star in the sky. We even name ourselves. There are a multitude of baby naming websites to consult if you are expecting a child. I should imagine that at times the choice can be overwhelming. To name a human being is, I believe, the most precious of all names.
And then there is the world of creative literature. I find it fascinating studying how others have chosen names for the characters in their books. J.K. Rowling is particularly talented at this. No name is casual, and no one comes by their name by accident. For example, imagine my excitement when I discovered that Sirius Black and his family are all named after stars. He is, of course, the ‘Dog Star’, which is why he turns into a black dog as an animagus. But I was once looking through a list of named stars in our universe, and even Belletrix is one of them.
So how do we name things in our writing? Where do we begin? It is my belief, that the name chooses the person, place, or thing, and not the other way round. For example, when naming a character in my novel I ask myself the following:
- Is the person conventional, and do they have a conventional name?
- What were their parents like?
- What are their dominant personality traits?
- Does their name have a hidden meaning?
When I have a shortlist, I speak the names out loud to test them. If they conjure up and image of the person I want to create then I sit with that name for a few days. Instinct tells me when I have hit on the right name, as I feel a tremendous sense of peace about it.
Whether it be the colours of the rainbow or a sailing boat in the harbour there are no shortage of things to name. What’s in a name? You decide!