In interviews, people often ask me where I find my sometimes frankly bizarre character names – or if I make them up. The fact is that they are almost all appropriated, and I think that the act of appropriation is vital to their … vitality.
This is going to be a short post, breaking the recent admirable History Girl tradition of encyclopaedic blogs. And it’s going to be a list: my dirty dozen ways or places for finding characters names.
1. Census forms for the appropriate year (in which the novel is set)
2. Maps showing the colourful names of small villages. Current favourite: Ploopluck in
. County Kildare, Ireland
3. Giuseppe Tassini’s Curiosità Veneziane – a gazetteer of Venetian places and names.
4. Doorbells. Venetians go in for engraved brass plates by their doors.
5. List of the war dead on the walls of churches. Also, (slightly shamefaced) the death notices people put outside shops and bars in
6. Puns. I love ones that work in Italian and English. So the rat in my latest children's novel, Talina in the Tower, is called Altopone. 'Topo' is the Italian word for mouse or rat. Adding '-one' means 'big one'. And then Altopone rhymes with Al Capone. And my rat is a bit of a wide-boy.
7. Tombstones in graveyards (except in
, where Napoleon had all the campi dei morti sealed up and transferred the burial business to two islands in the lagoon. Venice
8. Il Gazzettino and La Nuova di Venezia, our local rags. Perps are fair game, especially.
9. Backs of old postcards that I buy in Venetian flea markets.
10. Waiting in queues at airports: luggage label voyeurism. You'd be amazed.
11. Dictionaries of slang. For Talina in the Tower, I named my sleazy hybrid wolves after their personal characteristics. I found the vocabulary in Charles M. Marchard’s 1917 tome, A Careful Selection of Parisian Slang . (I am wondering what he had to be careful about?). The Ravageurs are not French, but they pretend to be. So this is what they are called and what their names mean: Frimousse – vicious face; Rouquin – reddish fur; Fildefer – thin; Croquemort – an undertaker’s man; Échalas – (a lath) lanky; Lèche-bottes – a boot-licker. The Lady Ravageurs are cruelly given unpleasant mocking names, such as: Ripopette – worthless; Caboche – (a hobnail) a blockhead; Bique – (a goat) a silly girl and, um, Bidet. I hasten to add that the females will prove that they are in fact clever, funny and brave.
12. Dinner table conversation cannibalism. The vulture in Talina is called ‘Restaurant’, a name I heard given to a greedy horse encountered on my stepson's Mongolian holiday.
Where have you found names? Or what names have you read that you’ve particularly relished?
Michelle Lovric’s websiteTalina in the Tower was published by Orion Children's Books on February 2nd 2012