Sunday, December 15, 2013

Characternyms and why they annoy me

I felt like I needed to get this off my chest, because I've been writing about this recently and I'm pretty annoyed at the whole concept of a characternym. A characternym, in case you really wanted me to insult your intelligence, is a trick in literature whereby the author gives their characters names that perfectly describe them.

I don't mind it for the occasional character. But I have been studying a 17th century play called The Country Wife and although it stays true to all restoration comedy, EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER HAS A CHARACTERNYM. The thing that annoys me most about this is that there are three characters that could really use a characternym - for those that have had the misfortune to read the play and understand what I mean, those characters are Alithea, Horner and Sparkish.

Horner is the main character and the wit that pretends he is impotent so that he can seduce all of the women in the town and get away with it. His name implies that he will bring out the horns in the cuckolds that he makes of the husbands of his mistresses. Sparkish is the main fop of the play, and so his part is nothing without the name to go with it. Last but not least, Alithea translates as truth. 

Now for why the rest annoy me. You simply don't need a characternym for each character because when you write, you focus on the character first and not the name. If you decide on the name, the character's personality is chosen and there is little room for fluidity. What use is that? Get your character right before you choose the name. That's like naming a baby before you conceive it.

And so my argument ends. Just a short post tonight.

The Book Critic x

1 comment:

  1. I like when a character's name (either surname or forename) is symbolic, though I'd be annoyed too if every single character's name had some sort of deep symbolism. Reminds me a bit of when I was putting meaningless symbols all over my writing, not for any real reason, but just to have symbols and force allegory where it wasn't even merited or logical.

    Sometimes a character's name can take on importance after the fact. The female protagonist of my Russian/North American historical novels started life as Amy, and later on I changed it to the more culturally accurate Lyubov (Lyuba), which is more or less the Russian form of Amy. The name literally means "love," which is very symbolic for what her character goes through in the first book.