Sunday, August 5, 2012

Character Impact With Names

One of my favorite entertainments is watching soccer. Through my trusty satellite dish I follow the English Premier League (EPL), Italian Serie A, watch a few Mexican league games, and this time of year I'm a faithful follower of the North American, Major League Soccer (MLS).

At the beginning of the season, I was watching/listening to an MLS Houston Dynamo game. At the beginning of the game, I wasn't in the room with the TV and kept hearing the commentator talking about Tally Ho. I realized he was referring to the goalkeeper. Tally Ho? When I viewed the game, I learned the player's name is Tally Hall. I still got a chuckle from my mis-hearing, and once when I watched a Dynamo game on a Mexican channel, their commentators seemed to find the name Tally Hall (ho) amusing, too. (Mr. Hall is an excellent keeper with an impressive shutout record)

I started thinking of when I might give a character a name like this--one that the reader might misread, or get a sound image that could be amusing or disruptive. I think if I described a fairly unimposing character near the beginning of a piece but knew he would be important later on (say, page 98 and on), giving him a name with impact could be helpful. Readers would be more likely to remember a name such as Tally Hall than they would Ron Smith.

A few weeks ago I was again watching a Dynamo game, still aware of my reaction to the goalkeeper's name. They were playing the Chicago Fire, and that team made a substitution. Hunter, was the name on the new player's jersey. Then information came up about the young man…His first name is Hunter. Hunter Jumper?

Okay. Tally [Ho] Hall and Hunter Jumper in the same game.

I snickered and laughed about Hunter Jumper (the name, not the player). It's akin to Kandy Caine, Slim Pickens, or River Banks. Almost too humorous without having a purpose--in fiction especially. Of the books I've read where this play with names occurs, I usually start thinking the authors have rather inflated senses of self as they assume their wit is topnotch and universal. I also found myself distracted from the story.

Would I ever tag any of my characters like this? Maybe. A minor character with this type of impact name could be used to show personality traits of the story's more central characters: the protagonist could be polite and nonjudgmental; another character could react by being subtle and snide, asking, "Do you raise foxhounds?"; or the gregarious, no-tact person would say "I can't believe your parents did that to you!"

Too much of this, unless I were writing satire or attempting humor (neither of which I do), could appear I was making fun of my characters--or I that take myself too seriously. I'd definitely try not to be too clever.

Which brings to mind another soccer player...this one from the EPL Manchester United team...with a neat name, Tom Cleverly.