Writing names, by Deborah Jenkins

 How do you choose names for the towns, roads and shops where your characters spend their time? It may not seem an important exercise but in my opinion, to make our work authentic, it's important to get them right.

I said to my daughter-in-law recently that I think she and my son have moved to a 'posh-sounding' road. She asked me to explain. I said that Oakwood Drive has a definite ring to it, oak and wood conjuring up images of ancient woodland crowned with towering trees. As for Drive, this sounded somehow smarter than Road or Close, and more imposing than Crescent. So the combined effect, for me, conjures up images of detached houses in a leafy road with little traffic. I am, in fact, partly right. But the point is. the name made an impression, giving me a mental picture of the place before I'd even seen it. The names we choose in our writing can do the same.

As a 'nature person', always aware of my environment, always looking out of windows for trees or a scrap of sky, I like to describe settings, so it's important to me to have a sensory picture of the place I'm writing about. So far, I've always set stories in places I know. The problem with my latest one is that I wanted to change things about the town to suit the plot. My publisher said this wasn't a problem but I felt uncomfortable knowing people who live there might read it and think, 'That's not right. How dare she tamper with our town!'' It might put them off, distract them from the story. I don't want that for my readers, so I decided to change the road and place names so the town was in effect, imaginary. This was harder than I thought. I felt I would be losing faith with my setting if I didn't somehow remain true to the original names. So I thought hard about each one and tried to make the new versions chime with the old.

Oldfield Road became Newbarn Road, Priory Road changed to Abbey Road, Linden Road to Laurel Road. People who know the setting won't be taken in, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I could make other changes - a large green in the centre, some waste ground - with impunity. More importantly, I have peace of mind about them. There are enough things to feel nervous about when a book is published. It's worth minimising concerns when we can.

When we visited our daughter in south London, we were fascinated by some shop names. The Divine Diner, Heaven Estate Agents, The Grill Father all caught our attention. As did the Shekinah Glory Unisex Hair Salon. Great nameMy least favourite was Ape's Go Vinyl (because of the misplaced apostrophe). 

Those names could have come straight from a book. But what I want is for the names in my book to come straight from real life. Or at least, seem to. 

How do you write names?

Deborah Jenkins is the author of textbooks, educational articles and a novellaThe Evenness of Things, available in paperback and as a kindle e-book.

Her novel, Braver, will be published in the summer of 2022 by Fairlight Books. You can read the press release about it here

Deborah wonders aloud about the crazy, inspiring and inappropriate, on her blog, stillwonderinghere.net

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