In the final stages of editing Lifers, I was in a regular back-and-forth discussion of the book with the team at Chicken House and they suggested changing some of the character names. There were two in particular they thought needed adjustment, both on the grounds of phonetic similarity; they began with the same letter, or sounded (accidentally) too similar.
So my protagonist’s best buddy ended up being called Mace – a move I was pretty pleased with, since I got to name-check my fave old-skool turn-table hip-hop outfit De La Soul – and my female protagonist became Ellwood, something I found harder to take. I loved the name that got discarded. It’ll turn up again in something else, I’m sure.
Naming characters is important – as David Lodge will tell you far better than I can in The Art of Fiction. I thought a lot about what to call my protagonist in Lifers before finally settling on Preston. Weird really, because it was a name that made perfect sense in those very early drafts, where one of the ideas I wanted to explore was the shape of urban landscape. Name the kid after a town, I thought. It sorta worked that way for the Wombles… Now, with the book so changed, Preston seems a touch anachronistic but once you’ve lived with a kid for two years and grown fond of them, you can’t contemplate them being called anything else.
My daughter, who’s five, has an unerring super-confident fluency in naming fictional characters. Anything that can stand-in for a person, from dolls through magnetised dinosaurs to shampoo bottles, gets named. I’m approximating her pronunciation here, but we’ve had Arto, Bellefusse, (‘belfoose’), Generation Girl, Mosser, Avro, Budi, the Pop-Up Ghost. When she’s playing the role of teacher, she’s the improbably named Mrs Perpatterfew.
When I’m asking older kids in creative writing sessions about possible character names, I sometimes get a shrug, and eventually, ‘Bill?’ It puts me in mind of a study of creativity as told by Ken Robinson and animated by the RSA here, which details the findings of a study in which young people were asked to imagine the largest number of possible uses for a paper clip. Draw a line graph of the number of suggested uses plotted against age, and I bet you can guess what it shows.
Bill indeed. Here’s to Avri, Budo and the Pop-Up Ghost.