Now I’ve written about names before and the thought we put into choosing appellations for our main characters. The topic has crept up on me once again yet with a slightly different dilemma of sorts this time.
Some of the most memorable literary main characters we know are usually the ones with the most unusual names: Heathcliff, Sherlock, D’artagnon, Atticus, Lestat or any Dickens’ character for that matter. Many will argue that the peculiarity of these names has contributed to these fictional creations becoming legends of literature.
But as a writer have you ever been tempted to christen a character (main or not) after another literary character, especially one with an unusual name that many would recognize?
Many famous authors have done it. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye mentions three sisters named Miranda, Perdita and Cordelia; many of JK Rowling’s characters have famous literary namesakes-Mrs. Norris(Filch’s cat) was named after a character in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen whereas ‘Hermione’ was also taken from Shakespeare. In Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, there’s a modern character called ‘Clarrissa’. Since the story was about Virginia Woolf and her writing of Mrs. Dalloway, the name ‘Clarrissa’ was clearly referential but I actually thought it was a bit too obvious. Bringing me to another point: is it lame to make reference to the original namesake in any form or way?
I was looking at a story I had started writing years ago but which I haven’t completed. Reading through it, I had a good laugh when I came upon the introduction of a particular character. He was a policeman and I had dubbed him …’Ichabod.’
(Yes, I’ll give you a second to laugh/muse about this)
(You’re done? May I proceed? Thank you)
Now if you’re one of those who have heard this name before, I’m willing to bet my life that on reading that, your immediate thoughts turned to a certain skull-deficient horseman of popular Dutch-American myth.
It is very difficult to hear the name ‘Ichabod’ and NOT think of Sleepy Hollow. Knowing this, I envisioned a potential reader screaming, “Hey! She stole that from Washington Irving!!!!”
So I decided to give myself a leg up and point out the obvious by stating in the narrative that (my) Ichabod’s father was a big Irving fan! Is it lame? Should I just give up on this whole malarkey and call my policeman ‘John’ instead?
I would like to state in my defence that the name actually suits my character although I can’t explain why. He looks nothing like Johnny Depp and he certainly doesn’t resemble a skinny, hook-nosed bird!
Of course my opinion alone doesn’t matter, what do you think? Would you get excited if you were reading a modern book and came across the namesake of a famous fictional figure?
And I know I’ve asked this question before in a previous post but how do you writers go about choosing names for your MC? Do you go for the unusual or do you opt for something more ‘common’?
1. Still from Sleepy Hollow(Tim Burton) taken from www.killermovies.com
2. Still from Legend of Sleepy Hollow(Disney) taken from http://www.chroniquedisney.fr