Quite a lot, actually. As a writer, when you’re naming your characters, which do you choose?
We all have a name we loathe: if you were the unfortunate target of Keith, the school bully, then the name Keith will forever have negative associations, however much of a perfect specimen of manhood is the fictional Keith. And of course names can, on the whole, give away the age of your character: my grandmother was Madge and her sister-in-law Nora, my mum’s generation is full of Pats, Jeans and Hazels and, as a child of the 1970s, Julie and Sarah were my peer group. Daisy, Kieran and Poppy are teenagers now. Biblical names for boys, Matthew, Thomas and John, are always popular and are largely, ageless. And does class matter with names? Katie Hopkins, queen of controversy, caused uproar on daytime TV when stating that she wouldn’t let her kids play with other children who had certain perceived ‘lower class’ names: they were bound to be a disruptive influence. So are Dwayne or Chardonnay always bad news?
So how can you suggest character through a name? I would never, for instance, name a rough diamond barely educated hero Giles, nor a scheming modern femme fatale Doreen. Names have a powerful association in the reader’s mind. Below are what certain names suggest to me:
Clara is bossy, tall and opinionated.
Helen is spoilt and manipulative.
Katie is flighty, pretty and a little dizzy.
Sarah is practical.
Eloise is vain, affected and self-obsessed.
Mary is a touch old-fashioned, sensible and wise.
Rachel and Claire are salt of the earth girl next doors, kind, reliable and good fun.
Catherine is intelligent and a bit of a tomboy.
Zara and Poppy are exotic and glamorous.
Zoe and Abbie are flirty party girls.
Simone is mysterious.
And what of the boys?
Lee is always in trouble and laddy.
Jack and John are reliable and slightly boring.
Mark is strong and sensible.
Peter is a perfectionist.
Tom and Robbie are manly and sporty.
Richard is steady.
Jeremy, Julian and Hugo are, of course, extremely well-heeled.
I would like to make the point that we all know exceptions to the above, people with these names that are nothing like I’ve suggested (I know gorgeous, fun-loving Sarahs, two very dependable Lees, glamorous Catherines and a grounded Katie and so on). These are just what characteristics certain names bring to my mind. But if anyone ever meets a Hugo or a Julian from a sink estate, please let me know!
So what’s in a name? You decide.
Note from Rebecca: this article is intended to be light-hearted, entertaining and fun, not a serious debate on the class system or people’s characters …