Sunday 28 July 2013

Naming myself, by Katharine Grant

Blog followers may notice that I've changed my name. There's good reason for this.  I don't want children picking up my first novel for adults - Sedition, to be published by Virago UK and Henry Holt USA, in 2014 - so I've chosen a different name.  I'll remain K. M. Grant for my YA and children's books, and Katharine elsewhere. As it happens, Katharine is my real name. I was christened Katharine but always called Katie except by my father when he wanted to give me a verbal clip round the ear.  'Katharine, come here!' was a summons to be dreaded.

My family went in for names, and still do. I have a sister called Cosima (as well as sisters called Alice, Charlotte, Victoria and Frances - we are numerous), an uncle and a brother called Peregrine, nieces called Matilda, Eleanor, Frideswide, Amabelle and Lully, and nephews called Rowley, Oswald, Hal and Cuthbert.  My own children are Clementine, Eliza and Cosmo.   (I wanted to call our son Valentine but my husband threatened divorce.)

Naming characters in your novel is always a key moment.   For historical writers, names help establish the time.  In my de Granville Trilogy, William, Gavin and Eleanor flag up 12th century Christendom, and Kamil 12th century Outremer.  In Hartslove, we find sisters Rose, Lily, Daisy, Clover and Columbine, with their brother Garth:  unmistakeable Victoriana.  There will have been Alices and Dans in 1746, when How the Hangman Lost His Heart is set, but actually, that's not why I chose those names.  To me, Alice is always fair and sharp, and Dan's full name is Dan Skinslicer.  Both names set the right tone.  Belle of Belle's Song is named in a loving pun by her father, a bell-founder in the time of Chaucer.


Foreign names can be more tricky.  I chose Yolanda and Raimon for the Perfect Fire trilogy because, unusually, the characters sprang fully named into my imagination and it never occurred to me to change them.  Changing any of my characters' names would be as troubling as changing my own.
this is the US cover

this is also a US cover

And changing my own is just what I've done!  It was strange signing myself 'Katharine' for Sedition. Even stranger suddenly realising what a difficult name it is.  I'm KathArine, like Katharine Hepburn, not KathErine like Katherine of Aragon, or Catherine like Catherine Earnshaw, or Catharine like St. Catharine's College Cambridge, or Kathryn like pianist Kathryn Stott.  Contracts have had to be amended, the name on the cover carefully checked.

Sedition is set in 1794 and I knew what type of names I wanted so I looked up family trees to make sure they were possible for the times: Alathea, Harriet, Georgiana, Marianne, Everina and Annie - Annie was usually a servant's name - my Annie is the daughter of an Italian craftsman, her name Anglicised from the Italian Anna.

I'm always curious about other novelists' naming habits.  Do you go onto internet lists?  Do you use names you've always liked but never dared call your own children?  Do you do meticulous research or none at all?  Shakespeare may have had Juliet declare 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet', but names do matter.  After all, had Romeo and Juliet been Chilperic and Clothilde, the speech 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo' would be better suited to the rude mechanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream - you try it - and Juliet/Clothilde's exhortation to 'refuse thy name' would have had even more unwanted comic undertones.   And then there's David and Victoria.  Chilperic Beckham? Probably not.


DLM said...

Working in historical fiction, most of my characters come with their own names (though choosing the version/spelling can present its own special issues!). I do like the choices you made for your hypothetical Frankish Romeo and Juliet, though:


Katherine Roberts said...

Names are powerful things. I think they influence your writing style, too - I once wrote women's magazine stories under a different name because in my head "Katherine Roberts" wrote fantasy stories and couldn't tackle women's fiction.

Good luck with the new books - from another KathErine.