Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Namesake

How a writer chooses a name for a character can be as simple as flipping through telephone directory or as complicated as plowing through dozens of census lists, baby name books and even interrogating friends and family. I myself have been known to ask random strangers things like "What's your middle name?" or "What's the weirdest name you've ever heard?" (to date, no one has come up with one stranger than the name belonging to a gentlemen I met in Europe, whose name translates into English as Spot Dog. Yes, first name Spot, last name Dog. No explanation or etymology offered.)

For the Disenchanted & Co. series I was very deliberate in using real history combined with mythology to name my characters. There was one old gent, however, who flatly rejected every attempt I made to give him a name. To stop driving myself crazy I gave him a nickname (Doc, short for Doctor [Something]), and promised myself I'd think up the rest of his name after I wrote the book.

I finished the book. Doc seemed to like his nickname but continued to stonewall every other attempt I made to name him. When this happens to me it's generally for subconscious reasons, and I simply have to figure out what they are. Doc really did feel like he should be somehow named Doc, but not as a medical doctor or a professor doctor. My Doc was another sort of doc.

I began making a list of all the words I knew that began with the letters DOC: doc, docile, dockery, docket, dockyard, doctrine, docudrama, document and so forth. The one word I kept going back to look at -- docket -- didn't make any sense to me. Doc had nothing to do with the courts or legal system in Toriana, and while I had a vague idea of what a docket was it had no personal meaning to me or my character. At the same time it looked terribly familiar, like something I'd seen every day. Since I don't hang out with lawyers or in courthouses it really perplexed me, and I wasn't going to use it until I understood why I wanted to name the character Docket.

I decided to research the word, and one definition from my dictionary jumped out at me:

[British] A list of things to be done; an agenda.

There was a connection; because Doc is a mechanic (very much like my guy) as well as an inventor who is forever tinkering on something or coming up with new ideas for some fabulous contraption he is very much a doer type of person. I have cousins in the UK, so it was possible I heard one of them use the word in that context, but I still had the nagging feeling that the word was somehow part of my daily life -- but how?

The lightbulb didn't go off until the day I went out into the garage to find a flashlight so I could hunt for my cat (he likes to hide in dark places.) As I reached for the torch I saw this on my guy's work bench:



There was the docket I'd been seeing every day. My guy always keeps a to-do list on his workbench as a reminder of things he has to do, and because he prefer small notepads I buy him these mini Tops legal pads which carry the Docket brand. I didn't consciously remember that, but when I named my character my subconscious kicked in with it.

So that's the story behind Docket's name. If you'd like to meet him, I've posted a new excerpt from Her Ladyship's Curse here in which he makes his first appearance in the story.

4 comments:

  1. I've just finished the excerpt and love it and Docket already. I say again, I can't wait to read this book.

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    1. Five more months isn't that long, lol.

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  2. I love the history behind names :-}
    My last name means something like 'Valley of the Trolls'

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    1. Oh, now I envy you immensely, Diana. On its own my real surname means "war" in Gaelic, but when you add my first initial it changes it to the anglicized version of an Old Norse word, skjalgr, which means wry. :)

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