Saturday, 7 August 2004

Dear Sir, Our client Mr Arthur Cladgebind...

A little booklet just published called Safe Names (New Writers’ Association, £3.95) will be a boon not only to new writers but to all writers of fiction. The team of compilers (who remain anonymous, asserting that their own names are too humorous to mention), realised that for many authors thinking up names for their characters is a time-wasting chore, and have made up a list of over 15,000 possible names from which writers can choose as many as they need before starting a new novel. Every one is a perfect compromise between the real-sounding but forgettable and the memorable but ridiculous.

More importantly, every one is guaranteed not to belong to any living person. In today’s world, if an author gives a thoroughly nasty character the name of a real person, he or his publishers run a serious risk of that person demanding substantial damages. One can imagine an agent, in the middle of negotiating film rights, tetchily phoning the author: “Look here, old man, this coke-head character you’ve got who gets had up for bigamy in Chapter IV. You’ve called him George Crumshaw. Damn it, there must be hundreds of ‘em and some are sure to sue, can’t you make it Charlie Grapefeather or something?”

Obviously a great deal of research went into the compilation. It would have been no use just dreaming up unlikely names and hoping for the best, because some people’s names really do sound preposterous; I mean, you might think you’d be safe with Nora Barnacle, but James Joyce’s lover was actually called that.

Perhaps in a later edition there will be a section listing names of people who have agreed that, for a fee, characters in a novel who behave splendidly throughout may be named after them. Personally I wouldn’t ask for a fee if some young novelist wanted to use my name for his handsome, tough, brilliantly successful but somehow deeply lovable hero.


Anonymous said...

I once took a call from someone claiming to be a Nell Clotworthy and when I challenged her (as in "Come on, be serious") she stuck to it. Her friend Mandy later confirmed it was so.

Seems it would be worth checking whether she appears in this book and can make a claim.

(who can't remember his log-in details so has to post Anonymously until they come flooding back)

Anonymous said...

Well just for the record, Tilly Culpepper is already taken. She's the first citizen of Bogwillow and a novelist in her own right.



Tony said...

There should be only two "p"s in Culpeper. Look up Catherine Howard.

Anonymous said...

The people at the Framley Examiner really have a handle on this. Just look at the names of some of their reporters:

Jamie said...

I must say I've always wondered about the names Wodehouse used--ARE there such names in England? Or was he trying for the, as you said, memorably ridiculous?

If he meant the latter, he certainly succeeded!

Tony said...

Well, I should think Jeeves, Wooster, and Psmith occur only in the Wodehouse canon but they are all perfectly likely. Little, as in Bingo L., is quite a common name, as is Ukridge and some of his others, but PG's true genius comes out in his nicknames, which are possible but memorable and certainly unique. I mean, I wasn't actually at school with anyone called Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, Tuppy Glossop or Gussie Fink-Nottle, but I might well have been.

Jamie said...

What about Postlethwaite? or Ffinch-Ffarrowmere? Those double-Fs were something else!