By any other name.

Ah yes, the rose may smell as sweet; but who’s going to know? Would anyone seriously stick their nose into something called skunkwort or carrion blossom?

Last Wednesday I had another Playwright’s studio and luckily for me, David was able to spare half an hour to go through Kiwiana Charlatan with me. The discussion threw up some interesting ideas, the biggest of which was that perhaps I could make all my characters Maori.

And I think I’m going to run with it. It makes more sense in terms of what I originally wanted to say, a kind of “be careful what you wish for” moral; where Maori are awarded their land back but not on our terms. I wanted to explore land as a burden, rather than a liberator. If all my characters are Maori I will be able to explore different viewpoints without making one character a mouthpiece for an entire race. I’m hoping that this will enable me to show the diversity within Maoridom. One problem I had with this idea is that the first thing that Maori ask is “Where are you from?”. Sarah is going to betray Mary and Zeke and I don’t want to tar any iwi with the turncoat brush. For the moment I have put the cheesy solution (amnesia!) aside and have gone with something true to our society. Sarah doesn’t know. She is one of the many urban Maori that have lost their ties when generations ago their families moved to the city for work. (Read this for the effect this migration had on families.) For now I’ve put this problem to rest, if it rears up again I’ll deal with it then.

My problem now is with Sarah. When I had my meeting about my novel, Phil suggested that Mae’s character needed to be rethought and that in doing so I may have to rename her.

I find naming characters difficult. But I truly believe that a name adds something to a character; that a name can invoke responses from the audience. I have a small dictionary of names that gives brief meanings. I am now on the search for a more comprehensive one, but it seems dictionaries of names are confined to the pregnancy area of the book store. I remember reading about a dictionary in a magazine that not only told you the meaning of names but where and when they were most popular. I shall have to look it up. I only hope that it isn’t my mind inventing things that I would like!

Sarah needs a new name. The name itself isn’t too bad, but it is my association with the old character – I had imagined what she looked like, her attitudes to Maori and (ahem) who might play her. I think it would be easier for me to write something completely new with a new name. But what will it be? A name tells us where a character grew up, when the character was born and what kind of parents they were blessed with.

What’s in a name? Quite a lot it would seem!

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3 Comments

Filed under Kiwiana Charlatan, Playwrights' studio

3 responses to “By any other name.

  1. ed

    names! names! argh I curse names – naming my characters – I hate it. I find it hard; all those meanings, reactions, hidden meanings, implications… So full of left brain stuff just when I am writing the raw right brain first words.
    Tolkien believed that even if you didn’t know the meanings and history of a name, subconsciously your brain would recognize their heritage. So Anna, Wilfred, Agnes, Cuthbert would seem different from Brendan and Wyn which would stand out from David, Quentin and Jerome – (that’s Anglo-saxon, Welsh, and Norman origins I think).
    I’m desperately trying to finish a raw draft and re-read the previous pages each day before moving forward. But I’m starting to miss their impact as they become too familiar. So I was thinking of re-naming the main character just to see if that would let me read the script anew…

  2. Jolisa

    On the question of “what names were popular when,” perhaps the website you had in mind was this one?

    http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager

    The database is American, but still it’s a pretty cool resource with nifty visuals. Interesting to see the old names fade away and then come back again.

    (By the way, is your 48 Hour FF film viewable anywhere online? I’d love to see it!)

  3. Whiti

    Cheers! I’ll check it out. Thanks for reminding me about our 48 hour film I’ll send an email to the producer toot sweet and see if I can get a link up.

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