Falling Short in the Names Department

Martin Amis wrote this in The Moronic Inferno --

"The way a writer names his characters provides a good index to the way he sees the world -- to his reality-level, his responsiveness to the accidental humour and freakish poetry of life. Thomas Pynchon uses names like Oedipa Maas and Pig Bodine (where the effect is slangy, jivey, cartoonish); at the other end of the scale, John Braine offers us Tom Metfield, Jack Royston, Jane Framsby (can these people really exist, in our minds or elsewhere, with such leadenly humdrum, such dead names?)."

Talk about names, and instantly you're talking about social class. The human brain may not be able to tell much about people from their names, but it believes it can. Often the process by which we decide what someone's like -- regardless of whether they're someone we're about to meet or a fictional character -- begins with our response to their name, a response deriving from our prior experience of other people's names.

Alan Bennett wrote this in Telling Tales --

"Years later when I came to read Proust, I found a great deal about names and their intrinsic flavour. The names that intrigued the young Marcel, though, were ancient names: Robert de Saint Loup en Bray, or the various names and titles of Guermantes family, lichened in history and tradition. It was a far cry from Dino Galvani (of ITMA) or J. Mouland Begbie (leader of the BBC Scottish Orchestra) or that stalwart of the BBC Repertory Company and voice of Tammy Troot, Moultrie R. Kelsall. These are the names I remember. I had not yet begun to write at that time and so this falling short in the names department was another deterrent, a reminder that to write one had to have something to write out of, and my names like my memories didn't come up to scratch."

1 thought on “Falling Short in the Names Department”

  1. I was just rereading Chekhov in Russian, and he manages to be laugh-out-loud funny just from the way he names his characters (especially in his satirical stories). I wonder if this kind of humor becomes too heavy-handed (and looses immediacy) in translation.

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