Wednesday, 25 November 2009

On Name That Bastard

Here’s the thing.

I have huge trouble with names. Even minor characters can prompt a 20-minute slack-jawed space-staring spell. Baby name sites don’t help, and if I start looking through other books for inspiration, I just read them. If I think of a friend’s name – Marcus! Jackie! – then I think, holy shit, I haven’t spoken to that friend in ages, I should really send him/her an email, then I start an email in my head, then I go and write it properly and then I come back to the story and I read the name again and think, Marcus isn’t the right name for this character at all, goddamnit.



Now, this won’t mean anything before you’ve read the book, but: Mitch was originally John. And Rick was Cain (and before that Leo and Mitch and originally, JJ). Minor characters changed names with every draft. There were good reasons for every change, too. Note: a ‘good reason’ can sometimes mean ‘my whim’. (By the way, Jake was always, always Jake. After Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles. Of course.)

The girl herself – the protagonist – had no name at all, as it was impossible to think of one when I started so I thought ah well, this story’s never going to be published anyway, I just won’t worry about it. And then the story turned into a book and I thought, hey ho, perhaps the reader can pretend to be her. Yes. (Lazy me.) So she was nameless until well after the book deal with Harper Collins, when we realised it was very hard to talk about the book without a name for the protagonist. (“There’s this girl, right?” etc.) I made lists of names I liked, like Nina and Amy. None of them were right. Everyone thought the girl needed an unusual name, and I thought of my friend Sass, short for Sarah. Which is both unusual and awesome. Problem solved. (I didn't get a chance to thank her in the thanks page of the book, as I'd already written that by the time the naming thing happened, so thank you Sass. You rock.)

God! That paragraph was exhausting, wasn’t it? The point is: naming is hard.

I was so fed up with naming that towards the end of The Dating Detox, when I decided that I had to change the name of one character for long and boring reasons I’ll explain some other time, I decided to see what name was statistically the most bastardy of all names.

So I emailed my friends asking for help to ‘Name That Bastard’.

Brilliant, angry emails poured in from them and their friends and sisters and colleagues. “Use Ted, please, I would be ecstatic”, or, “Dick. Normally refer to him as Poison Dwarf”. There was also lots of Phils, several Ryans and a Nigel. (A Nigel! Who would have thought he had it in him?) And that’s how I ended up with Rick. (Best said through clenched teeth.)

And now, the point of this blog post. For the second book, I need another bad guy’s name, and I’m throwing it out to you. Skip on over to www.namethatbastard.com where I’m compiling the results of my totally unscientific study. The most popular name – or most awesome story, I’m not sure which – will be the anti-hero in my next book. So check out the blog or just email bastard@namethatbastard.com

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