Fiction Daily.
A blog on writing, writers and why we read. Posted most mornings by Marion Blackburn.
The naming of cats
Today, part three of names and the novel, brings us to T.S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot on cats:

The naming of cats is a difficult matter,

It isn't just one of your holiday games;

You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES

Eliot perfectly captured the idea that beings are defined by their names, and as you remember from this poem in Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the third name for a cat is known only to itself.

Because that third name is known to the cat alone, it cannot be spoken -- and so, it is impossible to know the cat, the cat's thoughts or nature.

Likewise with fictional characters. If I know their name, I know their character. Or is it more like this ... once I know their character, I know their name?

There are greater secrets than names in writing. Most important, is the secret of "knowing," the secret of how some days the stories, people and details of this living thing, a work of fiction, come -- while other days, I just sit here and stare, with only a sentence or two to show for the day and probably a whole lot of snacks and solitaire in between.

AHEAD: When is it writing ... and when is it indolence?

2008-01-10 14:49:19 GMT
Comments (2 total)
Idea for a future "names and the novel" entry: Most of us have perfectly normal names -- Joe Brown, Tina Murphy, Marion Blackburn. How do you balance using everyday names, which might not tell us a lot about a character, with names that are obviously made up but are highly suggestive of the character's nature (again, going back to Dickens as a great example). Or is that something you have to decide based on the overall tone of the book or character -- an over-the-top plot can more easily absorb, or an exaggerated character can more easily wear, a name like Squeers.

Another author whose unlikely character names fascinate me: James. Ayn Rand too ... "Dagney Taggert"?
2008-01-11 12:42:57 GMT
You can imagine ... this topic is inexhaustible. You have raised some fascinating points I hadn't considered. Such as how some plots can accommodate hefty names, while others cannot.
I have tended toward names that are very mealy ... sometimes too much, and I've had reader-friends who tell me to spice it up, because the characters seem pathetic. I think that goes back to their name. -- MB
2008-01-11 15:27:57 GMT
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