I don’t usually speak from a script at lit fests, but as I had just had Covid when the HULF Festival of Words* came around, I didn’t want to rely on my slightly fuzzy memory. Having written the script for my affectionate talk about the use of slang in school stories, I hung on to it, so that I could share it with you today here on my blog.
*HULF is the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, which I founded in my home village in 2015, and which has been running public events in various venues about the parish ever since.
Only afterwards did I realise the significant difference between the choice of names for bells and for babies:
Bells arrive fully formed and their purpose in life is clear.
With babies, it’s all still to play for: how the little bundle will turn out in adulthood is anyone’s guess, although their given name will likely reflect parental aspirations.
Thus, when naming bells, there is no need to consult any baby name books or The Times’ most popular names list for that year. Bells’ names are typically those of apostles and saints, indicating their devotion to the church. St Mary’s are thus Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Mary, Arild and Wulfstan.
The Naming of Characters
As a novelist, I’m in a similar position with my characters: I choose names to suit their traits in adult life, rather than to reflect their parents’ ambitions at their birth.
I do however consult official lists of names popular at their date of birth to ensure I don’t end up with anachronisms. Deborah, for example, has not been in the top five since four years before I was born, and I long ago resigned myself to being my generation’s equivalent to a Gladys in my old age.
I’m in awe of masters of the art of naming fictional characters, such as Charles Dickens and P G Wodehouse, even though the cynic might find their choices larger than life.
Would Mr and Mrs Squiers, parents of the future cruel headmaster of Dotheboys Hallin Nicholas Nickleby really have had the foresight to name their son Wackford?
Might Bertie Wooster’s awkward chum Gussie, obsessed with newts, be likely to inherit the surname Fink-Nottle? To my mind, it doesn’t matter – it’s all part of the fun.
Whether or not you believe in nominative determinism – the notion that your name anticipates your status in life (Nomen est omen, as the Ancient Romans neatly put it) – it’s hard not to rejoice when you find a real-life example:
Keith Weed, President of the Royal Horticultural Society, I wish you the best of luck.
To find out how the leading characters in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries got their names, read these posts from my blog archive: