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Of names and nicknames...

Well, I haven't read War and Peace, but from what I hear, I think I'll be impressed merely by the fact that each character has at least a couple nicknames. I have enough trouble dealing with a few. And then there are the "proper forms of address" thrown into the mix.

At first it wasn't so bad. In my first novel, which-shall-remain-nameless-and-never-again-see-the-light-of-day, I had eight narrators (hey, at least I can say I come by the multiple narrators honestly). I chose how each character would refer to the seven others (title or given name) and that didn't change much from the beginning of the story to the end.

Blakeney Manor was a little different. Sophia, for instance, is called variously: Miss Dewhurst, Sophia, Sophy, Sophy-mine, and others, depending on the point-of-view character. Some characters refer to her (in narration) as "Miss Dewhurst" at the opening of the novel and "Sophia" at the end. Daisy is called such, but it's actually a nickname (her real one being Marguerite).

Now, with Hastings Hall things are only growing more complicated, because of all the history between the characters, but also because I'm dealing with only a few families. Everyone has the same last name. We have Sir Percy Blakeney, Lady Blakeney, Mr Blakeney (Jack), Mr Algernon Blakeney (Gerry), Miss Blakeney (Daisy). Repeat such with the families Hastings, Ffoulkes and Stowmarries. Somerton's point-of-view is becoming especially touchy, since he won't even cut me enough slack to call Jack by his first name. He insists on refering to him simply as "Blakeney".

Argh.

So, basically, this is just a rant. Why-oh-why do so many of my characters have nicknames?

Okay, I know why. A combination of a hated childhood nickname and growing up alongside Anne-with-an-e.

Cate

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( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
meredith_wood
Nov. 6th, 2007 01:06 pm (UTC)
LOl. Actually, I love nicknames. Logan, one of my POV characters, refuses to call anyone by their given names and instead makes up his own. So of course, this has to trickle into the narration cause if he calls them by their nickname in dialogue then of course that's how he thinks of them.
rosemaryinwheat
Nov. 6th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
Exactly.

Each of my characters thinks of/calls the other characters by different names, depending on the intimacy of their friendship (which is sometimes very tricky when dealing with Regency characters).

I almost groaned last night when Henry Ffoulkes referred to Charles Stowmarries as "Charlie".
meredith_wood
Nov. 6th, 2007 01:37 pm (UTC)
It brings so much life to the page, though, doesn't it? I've had a million nicknames over the course of my lifetime. *a bit of a dry cough here* I prefer to only remember the better ones. *BG*
rosemaryinwheat
Nov. 8th, 2007 02:26 am (UTC)
Indeed! Despite my griping, I wouldn't take away the nicknames for the world. I just have the delightful challenge of keeping the characters well-defined, despite their myriad names.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 7th, 2007 06:21 am (UTC)
My sympathies! Definitely a particular challenge in novels set in the world of the British aristocracy (particuarly 18th/19th century) where forms of address are highly stratified and where characters tend to be related and share names (and would often be addressed by their surname). Not to mention often having multiple names and titles. But along with being a challenge, it can also be a very useful way of differentiating relationships between characters. Dorothy Dunnett commented that Georgette Heyer did this particularly well, using title (and various forms of title such as "my lord duke"), surname, and given name to delineate relationships. Dunnett herself does this with Francis Crawford of Lymond, who is "Lymond" to most people and "Mr. Crawford" to some, while others use the variety of titles he acquires in the course of his adventures. For someone to call him "Francis" (or for him to sign a letter with his given name) indicates a rare degree of emotional intimacy.

I like to use various forms of address and a lot of my characters have nicknames. I do tend to cheat a bit in the narrative, though. For instance, Charles thinks of Mélanie as "Mélanie", though he almost always calls her "Mel". He pretty much only calls her "Mélanie" when he's extremely angry or otherwise driven beyond endurance. For a bit in "Secrets of a Lady" he can't call her anything more intimate than "madam", then he gets back to "Mel, and eventually "sweetheart". (Mélanie, on the other hand, defiantly calls Charles "darling" through out the book). Charles also thnks of his sister as "Gisèle", though he calls her "Gelly". And I spent a lot of time thinking through when Raoul O'Roarkie calls Charles 'Charles" and when he calls him "Fraser".
madeleinestjust
Nov. 9th, 2007 12:20 pm (UTC)
Persnickety Corner
I do tend to cheat a bit in the narrative, though. For instance, Charles thinks of Mélanie as "Mélanie", though he almost always calls her "Mel". He pretty much only calls her "Mélanie" when he's extremely angry or otherwise driven beyond endurance. For a bit in "Secrets of a Lady" he can't call her anything more intimate than "madam", then he gets back to "Mel, and eventually "sweetheart". (Mélanie, on the other hand, defiantly calls Charles "darling" through out the book).

I have to say, I always thought of/read Melanie as Melanie, with the French accent on the 'e' (absent in this post, sorry!): 'May-lanie'. It's a beautiful name that suits her, whereas 'Mel' sounded too modern to my ears. It's not a criticism, I'm just particular about character names in books - they can throw the whole story for me. I can't sit and read about characters with monikers that are more brands than names, as with really bad 'chick lit'/airport fiction (not that I can read those books anyway) - characters with place names, like 'Montana' or 'Alabama', or pornstar names such as 'Lucky' and 'Brock'. I love to curl my imagination around flowing titles, like 'Marguerite St Just', or listen to narrators with oridnary names ('Archie Goodwin', in the Nero Wolfe mysteries), but there has to be a degree of reality in there - authentic to time and place, fitting for the character, easily adaptable for nicknames and continuous address, etc.
rosemaryinwheat
Nov. 9th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Persnickety Corner
Names are sometimes funny things, aren't they?

I remember our discussion of Gerry's name (Algernon). It's interesting that the name is shaping the character (as I think happens to us in real life, too). Gerry is starting to develop a strange connection with his grandfather, though I named him after Sir Algernon for very different reasons.

Then there's Somerton, who insisted that I know his given name is William, though it appears nowhere in Blakeney Manor. Everyone calls him Somerton, even his parents. I know that somewhere in the series someone will call him William -- I just don't know who.
madeleinestjust
Nov. 9th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Persnickety Corner
I know that these characters seem to be channelling you, but how did you think of their names, at the start?

I realised after I posted the above comment that I was thinking very much as a reader, compared to yourself and Tracy Grant - the only characters in my stories that don't belong to somebody else have been minor, undeveloped figures, and so I have yet to actually struggle with names!

I suppose writers have to christen their characters with names that primarily appeal to themselves - and then the character in question. Did you begin with alternative choices, for Gerry (Algernon) and Daisy (Marguerite), and then did your creations begin to dictate their own titles and nicknames? (I do like how your characters are distinctly independent, despite being named after parents and grandparents!)
rosemaryinwheat
Nov. 9th, 2007 11:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Persnickety Corner
how did you think of their names, at the start?

Well, some of them came with names. Jack, for instance, was mentioned in Pimpernel and Rosemary, as were most of the elder generation. I chose Algernon because it was typical to use a grandfather's name for a child. (In that spirit, I decided that Marguerite's father was named Jean, which they Anglicized to John/Jack.) I chose Gerry simply because I can't stand Algy as a nickname (speaks to your comment that names have to be appealing to the author).

Daisy came because I assumed Percy would adore having a little version of Marguerite to spoil, so I thought "why not be blatant about it" -- and I knew Daisy to be a possible nickname, as it's used in Little Women for the younger Margaret.

So for these characters, the names came first, and they always seemed to fit. Gerry, especially, is really growing into his name. Daisy, while she doesn't hate her nickname, per se, she loves her full name but feels she's not allowed to use it, which says a bit about her, too.

For other characters, I tend to dive into a book called The Character Naming Sourcebook for ideas. I find it better than a baby name book because the names are listed by geography/culture rather than strictly alphabetically. Usually, something will jump out at me. I do pay attention to what the names mean, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all of my choice. Sometimes names change, but it's usually early in the process.

On only one occasion I have I changed a fully-developed character's name. A few drafts back (more than a few) Gerry's plotline was completely different and involved the Vicomte de Tournay (Suzanne's nephew). I had named him Georges, but eventually realized that I didn't like the alliteration of the two names Gerry/Georges. Changing Gerry's name wasn't an option, so I searched and searched and finally came upon Vincent -- which made me think of the character from the TV show Beauty and the Beast. He fought me for a while -- with a different name he suddenly felt like a different character. Now he's settled into it, and while he could have his old name back since the plots have changed, he doesn't seem to want it.

Not that any of this is really helpful, as I'm basically saying, "they name themselves". The best advice I can offer, if you're looking to name characters, is to continue what you're doing: pay attention to names, to how they make you feel. When you meet people, and hear their name, let a little part of you (only a little more) judge them completely by their name, then see if you're right.

Re: Persnickety Corner - tracy_grant - Nov. 10th, 2007 06:38 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - rosemaryinwheat - Nov. 10th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - tracy_grant - Nov. 10th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - madeleinestjust - Nov. 10th, 2007 10:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - rosemaryinwheat - Nov. 10th, 2007 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
tracy_grant
Nov. 10th, 2007 06:17 am (UTC)
Re: Persnickety Corner
It's interesting, I never consciously decided Charles would call Mélanie "Mel"l, that was just how the dialogue came out the first time he addressed her. Much farther into writing the book, I realized that it says a lot about the way Charles sees her, which is much more as a comrade and parnter in advneture than the delicate, elegant, exotic creature that "Mélanie" conjures up. If the books were ever filmed (well, I can dream :-), I'd suggest some of the English characters pronouce Méalnie without the accent, while some get it right. I'm quite sure Lady Frances would pronounce it correctly, and I'm sure Raoul (who of course isn't English) always says "May-lanie".

madeleinestjust
Nov. 10th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)
Re: Persnickety Corner
Thanks to both of you for sharing your creative processes - I love to learn how writers begin new stories, and how they overcome obstacles along the journey! This idea of letting the characters speak and act for themselves fascinates me; I've only experienced this method with dialogue, as inspiration for a scene.

Much farther into writing the book, I realized that it says a lot about the way Charles sees her, which is much more as a comrade and parnter in advneture than the delicate, elegant, exotic creature that "Mélanie" conjures up.
Yes, that makes sense - although I do like women in historical fiction to remain 'exotic and elegant', too (I have a personal grudge against the word 'feisty'; I even rule it out of dictionaries! What on earth is it supposed to mean? Is strength in a woman really that much of a separate, exclusive characteristic?)

If the books were ever filmed (well, I can dream :-)
I was just thinking about this! 'Secrets of a Lady' would be perfect for the screen. Who do you imagine for your characters? Would it be a terrible insult to suggest Ralph Fiennes as Charles? Not sure about Melanie, a very complex character.
Re: Persnickety Corner - tracy_grant - Nov. 10th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - madeleinestjust - Nov. 10th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - tracy_grant - Nov. 10th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - madeleinestjust - Nov. 11th, 2007 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Persnickety Corner - tracy_grant - Nov. 11th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
tracy_grant
Nov. 7th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)
Sorry, forgot to sign in above!
rosemaryinwheat
Nov. 8th, 2007 02:32 am (UTC)
(Mélanie, on the other hand, defiantly calls Charles "darling" through out the book).

One of the things I love about Mélanie is the tenacity she shows in keeping the endearment. It was an excellent choice for her (and you) to make.

And I spent a lot of time thinking through when Raoul O'Roarkie calls Charles 'Charles" and when he calls him "Fraser".

This is something I'm playing with now, between two ex-sweethearts. I still have plenty of time to decide, however, and I think the answer will become clearer the further along I get in the draft.

Oh, and my book-budget is gone for the month (already), but I've requested the first Lymond book from the library.
tracy_grant
Nov. 8th, 2007 07:36 am (UTC)
Weird, even though your commnets on my original post (the one I made anonymously by accident) showed up, my post hasn't.

Tenacity was just what I was going for with Mélanie calling Charles "darling"--glad it came through!

I think you can show a lot about your ex-sweethearts by how they address each other and when (Raoul, for instance, usually calls Mélanie "querida"; there's a scene in the third book where, under very trying circumstances, he almost doesn't in front of people who shouldn't know about their prior relationship). I think you're right, as you get further into the draft how the characters address each other will sort itself out.

So glad you're trying the Lymond Chronicles--do post about what you thnk of them! (And give "Game of Kings"a try for at least half the book--it takes some people a while to get into).
rosemaryinwheat
Nov. 8th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC)
Weird, even though your commnets on my original post (the one I made anonymously by accident) showed up, my post hasn't.

Oops. That was me. I neglected to unscreen it.

Needless to say, I'm very excited about the third book and I'm glad to know Raoul makes an appearance.

Naturally, I'll post about the Lymond Chronicles. And thanks for the advice to keep going -- I'll be sure to give Game of Kings a proper chance.
(no subject) - tracy_grant - Nov. 9th, 2007 01:39 am (UTC) - Expand
new post on my blog - tracy_grant - Nov. 11th, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: new post on my blog - tracy_grant - Nov. 14th, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: new post on my blog - madeleinestjust - Nov. 15th, 2007 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: new post on my blog - tracy_grant - Nov. 15th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
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