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Author Topic: Best name for a literary character?
Tubby Isaacs
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Some authors seem particularly skilled at naming their characters. Dickens is an obvious example. Martin Amis produces loads of classics:

Keith Talent
John Self
Trish Shirt
Richard Tull
Gregory Riding
Annalise Furnice
Lorne Guyland
Butch Beausoleil
Fielding Goodney

But my favourite of all, the brash American professor in David Lodge's excellent campus novels, Changing Places and Small World (both much better than Lucky Jim):

Maurice Zap.

Is it just me or is that a masterstroke. How much fuss would my French teacher have made if Flaubert had come up with a name like that...

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Harry OTFer
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Tish and fipsy.

Try these for size.

Albus Dumbledore
Rubeus Hagrid
Sirius Black
Lord Voldemort
Madam Hooch
Professor Snape
Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback

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Wyatt Earp
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What about these?

Stiffy Byng
Catsmeat Potter-Purbright
Oofy Prosser
Gussie Fink-Nottle
Sir Watkyn Basset
The Rev. Stinker Pinker

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Gangster Octopus
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I must admit that I assumed that that was Andy C.'s post.
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Andy C
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Captain de Courcy Foulenough
Mr Justice Cocklecarrot
Sonia Tumbelova
Serge Trouserin
Emilia Rustiguzzi
Sol Hogwasch
Lady Cabstanleigh
and the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarves: Sophus Barkayo-Tong, Amaninter Axling, Farjole Merrybody, Guttergorm Guttergormpton, Badly Oronparser, Cleveland Zackhouse, Molonay Tubilderborst, Edeledel Edel, Scorpion de Rooftrouser, Listenis Youghaupt, Frums Gillygottle, and Churm Rincewind

All from the genius who wrote: "One disadvantage of being a hog is that at any moment some blundering fool may try to make a silk purse out of your wife's ear", JB Morton.

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Mat Pereira
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I tend to like literary names that are compact and spare.

Mr Venus, the dodgy taxidermist in 'Our Mutual Friend', with his dark, little office in Southwark, is extra enigmatic because his name is more the kind of thing you'd expect a pornographer to be called and crucially it only has two syllables, so it rolls off the tongue better.

Two Syllables is the key to a good literary name, anything else tends to either sound wacky or is entering the dreaded Lord of the Rings territory.

Count Fosco from 'The Woman In White' is another. Again you've got that double-edged thing with him as well, you'd expect a character with a name like that in a 19thC novel to be a lean, shiny booted bastard on a white horse, but instead he's an extremely overweight, middle aged bastard who hardly ever gets out of his rocking chair.

There's loads more.

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Mat Pereira
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Chester Himes is pretty good for names, too, come to think - Coffin Ed, Ulysses Galen, Big Joe Pullen, Grave Digger Jones - almost all of his characters have got names like that. They fit sharply into the clipped, poetic rhythm of his novels too.

"Two Syllables is the key to a good literary name, anything else tends to either sound wacky or is entering the dreaded Lord of the Rings territory."

Oh, I should have qualified this yesterday, I wasn't saying any of the examples others already given fall into this category.

See, I think the key to all this is that fictional characters names are only as effective as the landscape the author has placed them into. Like, Gussie Fink-Nottle, for instance works because of the lower-aristocracy-getting-into-scrapes world that PG Wodehouse puts him in. It makes sense for a young, chronically short sighted comic foil who collects newts and bumps into things a lot to have a name like that. It's what you'd expect him to be called.

Same with the Harry Potter names and Dickens names, none of them come across as wacky, because in the context of the novel they are the names you'd expect the characters to have. They makes sense.

I also like the way in Russian novels each character has about four different names, so one minute they're Rodya, the next minute they're Rakolnikov and then he's called something else, so you have to trawl back through the novel to find the explanatory paragraph about fifty pages in. Oh, right yeah, that's his pet name, I should have guessed. It adds to the atmosphere that, lets you know you're in another culture and another time, you wouldn't put up with it in a Shirely Conran book.

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Gordon Bennet
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Excellent post by Matt, especially the way that the great Russian novels dick about with patronymics and pet names and diminutives. War and Peace's cast list is big enough as it is, without the number of names being trebled. Natalya/Natasha/Natrushka etc etc.

That said I'm going to derail the burgeoning discussion by listing some funny Douglas Adams names that make me laugh.

Slartibartfast
Zaphod Beeblebrox
Vroomfondel
Majikthise
Lunkwill and Fook (and their descendents Loonquawl and Phouchg)

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Janik
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You bastard, GB. I nearly put Slartibartfast up last night. Clearly the greatest name ever. Even the shortend version, Slarti, is good. And I like Dentarthurdent.

As to the Russian novels, do they always explain? I wouldn't have thought most authors would bother telling you that Sasha is short for Aleksandr, for example. It would be assumed knowledge.

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Gordon Bennet
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Another one that's hard to beat is Obadiah Slope from the Barchester novels. It's great because it feels oily and slightly disgusting even as you say it, so it's kind of onomatopoeic for the character himself.

And how great is the word 'onomatopoeia'? Four consecutive vowels. Yowza!

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Wyatt Earp
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Can't believe I forgot E. Jimpson Murgatroyd.
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Andy C
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Regarding messing about with names in Russian literature - have you noticed that the BBC are dramatising something called Anna Karenin?
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