The other day, I talked about portentous weather. Which led, in the course of time, to thinking about portentous names — by which I mean the sort of name that tells the reader right up front what he or she is supposed to think about a character.
The Victorians loved this sort of thing. Dickens positively reveled in it, especially for his secondary characters, who rejoiced in names like Thomas Gradgrind and Wackford Squeers; Gilbert and Sullivan parodied it in Ruddigore, when the trusty servant Adam Goodheart, upon his employer’s assumption of the role of Bad Baronet, changes his name to Gideon Crawle.
These days, most writers go for subtler effects — with at least one prominent exception. I refer, of course, to J. K. Rowling, who didn’t hesitate to give her secondary characters names like Malfoy and Crouch and Shacklebolt, and her readers loved her for it.
2 thoughts on “Another Brief Note on Names”
I heard somewhere that the deal with the out-there villain names had to do with either a quirk or misconception of British libel law, which, at the time, allowed someone to claim libel if you used their name for an immoral character (or at least writers thought that was the case). So people gave their bad guys outrageous names to avoid liability.
That sounds like a tall tale, but given the current state of British libel law, it wouldn’t much surprise me to learn it was true.
How providential when you find
The face an index to the mind,
And evil men compelled to call
Themselves by names like Gideon Crawle!