Showing posts with label stereotypes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stereotypes. Show all posts

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Giving Characters the Right Name...

As possible names for the new royal baby is getting press coverage at the moment, with the birth of a daughter to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, I thought talking about suitable names for characters might be a good topic - and it's wonderful to have something other than the approaching general election to discuss.

Names 'come with baggage' even if we don't realise it. It's built into us as we grow, experience life and are exposed to the numerous influences around us; certain names can suggest certain things- when you may have been born, and even social background.

But it doesn't have to...

Ethel for example; it suggests an old lady, which was perhaps why the early writers of EastEnders called one of their fictional elderly characters by that name. But to someone else who grew up with the golden age of Hollywood films, the same name would suggest the gutsy singer and actress Ethel Merman, Two completely different examples of the same first name.

There are lots of name books available, and the Internet has numerous sites where you can find out the etymology of names, whether general or to specific cultures/countries. So if you need to find a name for a character you've decided was born in another country, you won't have such a struggle...

Have a look at the random name generator on the Behind the Name website. You can set options for country; there's even Myth to Fantasy via Ancient, Biblical and even Fairy, Goth or Transformer!

If you have a contemporary setting there's a lot more choice of names, even taking into account setting, location, and background of your characters.

Look on the ONS website for the list of popular baby names each year going back to 1996.

Names in an historical settings are different too, especially the further back you go. Name choices are reduced for the ordinary worker, compared to the variety used for those with land and money.

If you've ever done family history research you will often see the same names being used, in the 1600-1700's, William, John, and Thomas are extremely common- it wouldn't be unusual to find first cousins with the same first name (that must have been confusing at times).

By the Victorian period there was a much wider variety of first names- even unusual ones, probably reflecting the progress made with the industrial revolution and the wider movement of the population..

Genealogy websites can be useful if you want suitable surnames for a character located in a specific region or county. I did this for one of the main servants in my Dorset novel, and it just brought her to life, giving me a stronger mental image of her.

I've learnt to listen to my characters where names are concerned. If I choose a name that my characters think is wrong, whether their own, or someone else's, they'll deliberately start referring to them by the name they think is right.

A few even tell me straight out that what I've called them is wrong, and their name is...

To be able to write these characters' stories their names have to be right, because if they aren't, the words don't flow for me. So it's all in the depths of my brain.

So, how do you choose names for your characters? Are there any books or websites you'd recommend to others?

As Shakespeare wrote, what's in a name?

Image courtesy of Tim Seed/

Monday, 16 April 2012

Scarred Baddies Are a Stereotype...

Late last week there was an item in a few of the newspapers about stereotyping in movies of those with facial disfigurement- scars indicate a baddie.

If you are interested in the campaign to change this attitude, then you'll find the BBC News article here and the Changing Faces website here, where you can watch their short film that is being shown in 750 cinemas across the UK.

But it got me thinking about how disfigured people are viewed in romantic fiction.

In the classic, Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester is injured and blinded in a fire. Apart from his intention to commit bigamy by marrying Jane, while his first wife is still alive and locked up for her own safety, he's not seen as a baddy, he's just a man in an impossible situation.

In an historical romance context there are going to be scarred heroes and minor villains...

Before guns, men used swords, and in a fight or a battle if you didn't die from the vicious sword wound you'd probably die from blood poisoning. And if you did survive there would be scars- yes they would fade a little in time, but they would still be visible.
Wounds would be sewn with a needle and thread, and the neatness of the scar would depend on how good the doctor (or whoever was doing the stitching up) was with their stitches...

No doubt there were people in past times who turned away from those who suffered disfigurement, or heavy scarring, just as many still do now days.

Certainly in some of the American historical romances I've read over the years, the heroine drags the scarred and/or disabled hero back into the light, and back into society by the healing power of her love.

The baddies in these stories often lack scars, in fact they look just like anyone else- they can even be women!

So no cinema stereotypes there, quite the opposite in fact...