Where Do Character Names Come From?
Often I adapt the names of people I know when I’m writing because they’re already in my memory bank, but I always assumed I got Bryant & May from a matchbox. Both my parents were smokers and there were always Bryant & May boxes lying around.
However, it appears the real Arthur Bryant was a knighted writer (see columns passim) and that he went to my old school, Colfe’s. I discovered that my best friend and business partner Jim Sturgeon came from a huge family of Bryants, but the strangest coincidence emerged when it turned out that my mother’s maiden name was not the one I knew her by at all but…Bryant. So it appears that far from picking a random name, I was genetically predisposed to finding it.
I’m always wary about using complicated or very unusual names (although I did use the first name ‘Brilliant’ in a Bryant & May book because it’s proper Victorian nomenclature and is pretty cool) because you can be sure there’s someone out there who has that name and will complain. Many libel cases of the past hinge on unfortunate coincidences. The writer Jake Arnott fell into this trap when he invented a name for an entertainer, not realising there was a very real and litigious namesake, causing the book to be pulped.
Now that a huge back-body of Victorian and Edwardian work is making its way onto Kindle, we’re being presented with a rich panoply of names. It would be nice to think we could get away from the usual top ten list of UK boys’ and girls’ names, which this year are:
1 Olivia, Harry
2 Lily, Jack
3 Sophie, Oliver
4 Amelia, Charlie
5 Emily, Alfie
6 Jessica, Jacob
7 Grace, Thomas
8 Ava, James
9 Ruby, Riley
10 Mia, Ethan
They’re all pretty vanilla and safe, although I honestly wonder how many parents even realise that they’re using diminutive forms in choosing Harold and Alfred, two very working class Victorian names!