Saturday, 4 April 2009

Here I go Again.... Catherine Johnson(but not that one)

This week I shall be mostly talking about names. I'm not sure if my new lead characters' name is fixed yet. I keep changing my mind which is not a good thing. I find that once I am completely sure about the name the character flows quite easily. People grow into their names, in fiction and in real life. So until I am sure I am a bit like a foal in the wind, skittish and unsettled.

My own name has been very easy to grow into. It's one of those dead common names that you could find - I bet - anywhere around the English speaking world. There are loads of other writers with the same name, an autism and animal behaviour expert (she does the books with Temple Grandin), a TV and Media lecturer and academic and of course Catherine Johnson, dramatist and writer of Mama Mia. I am not any of them.

Every month, every few days when the film came out I would find emails either from school headmasters in Denmark who want to do a shortened version for their end of year concert, sloppy BBC researchers wanting me to appear on Front Row (a few seconds of excitement there), or tourists from Idaho who are 'passing through your London' and would like the opportunity to take me out for lunch at the Ritz.

Up until this year I used to receive some fees due to the other Catherine Johnson, last year she recieved my advance (don't worry we swopped).

I suppose I could change my name, but I've had the same one for over forty years now and I'd find it hard to change. And anyway, names mean a lot. My parents gave my brother and I dull, heads-down, names. Names that wouldn't get us noticed any more than necessary. I think this was because they'd both had screaming look-at-me names that meant every time they introduced themselves people always said 'What?'.

My Dad's first name was Sturdee, named after some obscure British Admiral, my Mum's parents decided to go boldly and make up a brand new name for her - Erinwen Mai (in case you're wondering it means white plum of May in Welsh). No one ever got that right either. So I can see why they did it, and although I used to hate Catherine,(never, never call me Cathy) I feel utterly at home with it now.


Charlie Butler said...

Interesting post. I've sometimes wondered whether there should be a convention that all authors' names should be unique, as is the case (I believe) with actors. It would avoid confusion, at least - though confusion is sometimes fun.

AnneR said...

Catherine, you should have taken the lunch at the Ritz and been on Front Row! The first you would certainly have got away with, and the tourists would have been so happy, too - no one loses!

I gave my daughters more unusual names because mine is so boring - and I had a boring one because my mother had an unusual one she hated, so perhaps it is destined to be an unending cycle.

I hope you find the right names for your characters ... this week I had to change the name of one of my characters at the 11th hour because a competing publisher is producing a similar story with the same names 3 months earlier. I renamed my central character and now it doesn't feel like my story at all! (For those of you who have seen it in proof - Harry in The Hanging Tree is now Alfie)

Linda Strachan said...

I often come across people with my name when I am in schools in Scotland. They tell me their mother or aunt has the same name. It is a strange experience for me because my maiden name was unusual and I had to spell it all the time, most people pronounced it badly and that may be why I decided to write under my married name.

Now I think it would have been better to stick with a more unusual name and I plan to use it if my adult novel ever sees the light of day!

Paul Lamb said...

To this day I rarely tell anyone what my middle name is. I just feel like it is my personal property, and I want to hold onto it. It's not even a special name, but it is my name.

About halfway through writing the novel I'm working on now, I realized I had to change the last name of my protagonist. European painting plays a large role in the story, and it happened that my protagonist had the same name as an obscure British painter (who otherwise plays no part in the story). I didn't want readers to be trying to divine any secret meaning for naming my character after a painter. But I looked on this as an opportunity to give him a name with a more thematic purpose.

Ms. Yingling said...

When I picked my daughter's names, I made sure that there weren't any pencils or bicycle license plates with those names. Of course, while Claire and Eleanor(Nell) are not common here in the US, I was able to get both of them pencils in London! Names are fascinating.