Names! Never underestimate their importance in a story. They can tell you a lot about a character, the book, and even the author. Sometimes they can even be a theme in their own right. They are in The Invention of Steam. There are characters looking for names, someone trying to clear theirs, another trying to reclaim it, someone using a name to hide themselves, and even a shadowy organisation which goes by many and yet never settles on one for the purposes of secrecy. There’s even a name for the age following the fall of the Victorian Era.

I like to think names are my strongest point when it comes to writing (well, that and an amazingly acute ability to alliterate awesome arrangements of words) and I have pages and pages and pages and pages of notepaper at home filled with names that I’ve come up with over the years. Names come to me easily. Everything else I have to work at. A lot of people in The Invention of Steam have rather idiosyncratic, but not unbelievable, names; there’s Mr. Washington Amberghast, Mr. Lionel Shivers, Hartley Salt, Mrs. Gullsdotter, Dr. William Fesker-Mandible, Ms. Gertrude Spool, Inspector Oswald Forge, Mr. Basil Gunwoodge, and of course, the ever-popular Josiah Nutbudget. Actually most of them are supporting characters, but I like to think that even people with just one line deserve a memorable name.

But all this is nothing compared to the genius of Dickens when it came to naming characters Not only did he create memorable figures, he gave them even more memorable and flamboyant names: Lady Dedlock, Wackford Squeers, Fagin, Uriah Heep, Abel Magwitch, Mr. Tulkinghorn, and (I kid you not) Mr. M’choakumchild. Such a talent was he at names that one actually became an noun and a verb: Scrooge. There’s such a glorious sense of wordy fun to them. To look at a list of surnames from Dickens’ novels is like watching the alphabet dance: Snagsby, Turveydrop, Jellyby, Smallweed, Pickwick, Mantalini, Knag, Lillyvick, Sliderskew, Creakle, Pumblechook, Wopsle, Jaggers, Chuzzlewit, Chuffey, Pecksniff… I could go on and on but you get the point. Glorious. And, not only were the names entertaining, but they hinted at the character’s personality, a secret, or even their job. Mr. Krook in Bleak House is essentially just that; a crook. Wackford Squeers mercilessly beats his pupils. Mr. M’choakumchild is a cruel master of the school in Hard Times. To look at each surname instantly gives you an idea of who you’re dealing with.

That’s what I’m trying to do: give my names some meaning – not just make them interesting to look at but make them little clues about the character. Will it work? Well I guess I’ll have to wait ’til someone reads it. I’m basing an entire character’s big secret on their name so I’m hoping it’ll be partly successful.

There is one problem though: I still don’t have a name for my arch-villain. Everyone else, right down to the tea lady, has a title but not him. And that’s fine for the first non-Steampunk half of the book, where we don’t see him and he’s only referenced as an ’employer’, but come the second act when brass Hell is let loose on the world and people see their future marching, rolling and ticking through the streets, well that’s a different matter. The Steampunk Age will have it’s leader, and he needs a name. But what? Everything I’ve come up with sounds too corny or too weak.

For inspiration I’ve been looking at the names of the great villains, the arch-nemeses: Blofeld, Moriarty, The Master, Lex Luthor, Hitler, Darth Vader, The Joker, Satan (if your hero is Jesus), Doctor Evil, Cam Winston, Lord Voldemort, and yet none of them have helped. However I have learned that in fiction you can divide villain’s names into 4 distinct groups, which I have titled ‘Smedley’s Categories of Evil Nomenclature’:

1st Category: ‘The Real Names’: Villains operating under their own name, often using only a surname, such as Blofeld, Moriarty, Sinestro, Satan

2nd Category: ‘The The’: Villains who have come up with the defining feature of their evil and put a ‘The’ in front of it, such as The Joker, The Green Goblin, The Devil, The Riddler.

3rd Category: ‘The Titled Villain’:Villains who are Counts, Lords, Dukes and other members of the aristocracy, such as Lord Voldemort, Professor Moriarty, Darth Vader, Lady Gaga. This category also covers Doctorates and PhDs of whatever subject, and even just the title ‘Mister’, so Professor Moriarty, Doctors Evil, Octopus and Horrible, Mister Freeze.

4th Category: ‘Evil Expositors’: Villains named after what they do, or how they do it, such as Jack the Ripper, Spring-Heeled Jack, The Strangler

Simples! Go on, try it out for yourself. Think of a villain, any villain across history or one that you have created yourself, and I guarantee they will fit the model. It’ll also be of use to you when coming up with your own villains for your own stories/screenplays/secret villainous identities. I’m thinking of using a 1st Category name for my baddie. Anything else would sound too corny. An ordinary name seems to fit the rest of my story, something that wouldn’t suggest the presence of a malicious mind. I’m honestly not too sure. If you can think of one that might help me let me know! In the meantime I’ll just have to write ‘John Smith’ in place of whatever evil name I do come up with. Mr. Dickens, I could do with your help right now…

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