What’s In A Name?

As previously mentioned, I have a terrible memory. It’s particularly weak on the subject of names. This can be a real problem for a reader. Nobody with a good memory can understand the sheer embarrassment of walking into a book-shop, realizing that your memory has failed you utterly, and having to ask for help.

“Uhm… excuse me?”

“Yes?”

“I’m looking for a book, it’s a sequel to a book I have and I really liked, but I don’t remember the name.”

“Sure, what was the author’s name?”

“Uh, I don’t remember.”

“Okay, what was the name of the first book?”

“… I’m really sorry, but I don’t remember that either.”

“Oooookay. Do you remember anything about the book?”

“It was about a detective in a steampunk version of Victorian England and he had a lady assistant named Veronica and the cover had a dirigible and lots of shiny gold bits. I’d know it if I saw it.”

“(super bookseller tappity-taps for a minute at the computer) Oh! You’re looking for The Osiris Ritual by George Mann. I’ll show you where it is.”

She was very nice and didn’t laugh at me even once, but I was utterly mortified even as I hurried out of Dymocks clutching the precise book I’d been looking for. And in the spirit of honesty, to tell this story I had to google ‘steampunk victorian detective’ and look around for a familiar cover, because I still don’t remember the author’s name or the titles! But I found out there’s a new one out, so go me. (And they’re good books!)

I have even worse problems with comic-book creators, who change way more often. My husband and I frequently have variations on this conversation whenever we try to get back into buying comics.

“Ooh, that story sounds interesting, let’s buy that!”

“(husband picks up the book) No, you don’t want to buy this.”

“Why not?”

“Frank Quitely drew this.”

“Who?”

“The guy you say is like Hitler.”

“OH, right, the one who can’t draw people! Okay. Find me one of the guys I like.”

“Do you like Grant Morrison?”

“Who’s he? Is he the one who hates women?”

“Which one who hates women?”

“The one with the Evil Slut Flakes.”

“No, that’s Chuck Austen. Grant Morrison is the one you think can be a bit of a wanker but all right if he’s properly edited.”

“Think he’s properly edited in this one?”

“I’ll risk it. I want to read this.”

“Okay, so who’s the one who doesn’t think I want to buy comics?”

“Joe Quesada. Now go get your Batman so we can go.”

For the record, comparing Frank Quitely to Hitler can get you funny looks. But it’s true! Good at landscapes and architecture, rubbish at people! Although I hear Quitely’s gotten a little better in the last few years.

And it’s not just real people, or their fictional characters. (My spouse is getting used to getting television recaps with such descriptors as ‘you know, the floppy one’ and ‘the pretty one from Friday Night Lights. No, the other pretty one.’) I have trouble with my own characters too. I once showed up at a NaNoWriMo write-in to realize that I’d culled my on-the-go writing file too far and had cut all mention of one character’s name. She was SFP (secondary female protagonist) for nearly two hours before I yelped ‘SOFIA!’ and startled everyone on my side of the table. This, mind you, was a week in, and I’d been writing her name multiple times every day.

I have learned to keep cheat sheets of names on every computer when I’m writing. Especially if I’m inventing gods or suchlike, because they crop up rarely enough that the name won’t get hammered into my brain by repeated typing. But then I always forget to update the sheet and I’m left hunting through Chapters Four to Seven because I know I mentioned him somewhere in here. I once had to call my long-suffering husband and ask him if he remembered what I’d named my fictional kingdom. He did. He’s so awesome. (He also didn’t complain when I went and woke him up just now to ask him who the one who hates women is.)

On the up side, I’ve only called my child by my sister’s name – or my cat’s name – a few times, and I’ve had her for nearly three years, so maybe I’m improving.

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2 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. I’ve been known to forget the names of close friends and relations, and once forgot the name of one of my pet rats so totally that after a couple of weeks I gave up and gave her a new name. I think it’s connected to my inability to learn foreign languages, because when you’re first learning the language the words are arbitrary labels for things you think of in your own language. In Terry Prtatchett’s first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic, in the dragon section, one of the dragon-riders changes names halfway through.

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