I don’t know if this is a phenomenon that happens to other writers, but I have a bad habit of reusing the same names without realising until it’s too late.
Take the name Daniel. The main character in my novel The Most Beloved Boy is called Dan. I have mentioned before that he is named after a marble that inspired a game I used to play, and the marble was named after a boy at school that I used to fancy. I went off the boy, but I never lost my liking for the name. Later in my teens, when the boy was forgotten and the story passed over, I had a crush on another Daniel, a character in the film The Memphis Belle. I’m not sure why this film has such a huge impact on me, but it did. If you don’t know it, it is about an American bombing crew in WWII, about to make their final mission – if they survive it, they will be the first crew to ever do so, the missions being so dangerous. I became obsessed with this film, and from it, became interested in the poetry of W B Yeats, the history of the B17, the music of Harry Connick Jr, and traditional Irish music, all because my favourite character, played by the actor Eric Stoltz, was an Irish American called Danny. The film used the song Danny Boy to great effect and it is still one of my favourite songs, definitely one of my Desert Island Disks. It must have cemented my fondness for the name. Years later, when I wrote After the Rain, I used it for a subsidiary character. Daniel is the housekeeper’s son at the house where my main character retreats to; he is a quiet, gentle young man who calmly accepts his strange new mistress and teaches her how to look after the garden. He doesn’t play much part in the action, but there aren’t many characters in the novel as a whole, so his presence is notable. There was then a big gap in my writing. By the time I started work on The Most Beloved Boy, over ten years later, I was so excited to bring my Dan and David story back to life that I never thought about the duplicated name. I didn’t even notice until sometime after both novels were published on Amazon. Now, there’s no rule that says you can’t duplicate names, but for the sake of clarity, it seems best to avoid it. But that presented a new conundrum. There was no way my main character in The Most Beloved Boy could be anything other than a Dan; not only have I nurtured him for too long but the name is significant within the plot. However, neither could I bring myself to change the other. It suited him too, and I couldn’t think of anything else as appropriate. And as I said, there’s no rule against it. So I decided to embrace it. Dan stayed as Dan, Daniel stayed as Daniel, and I decided that there would be a Dan/Daniel/Danny etc in everything else I ever write. And so there is. In No Such Cold Thing, there is a Danny with one line. In The Hawthorn Bride, Dan is a dog – short for Dandelion. In the novel I’ve just completed, I’ve gone with Daniella. It can be a fun game for readers.
So far so good, but then, after finishing No Such Cold Thing, I realised I had done it again. In that novel, the main character is called Kitty, but it is short Cecilia. It’s part of the story that she is named after her great-grandmother, who was Cecilia shortened to Cis. But I had already used this name in After the Rain for the sister of my main character. Marianne calls her sister Sissy, but she is formally introduced at one point as Cecilia. It’s a bit of a point that Marianne never shortens her name, unlike her sister. I considered going back and changing it, but Sissy had been Sissy for so long that I just didn’t want to. I decided that the pet versions of each use of the name – Kitty, Cis and Sissy – were different enough, so stuck with them.
After that, I thought it would be a good idea to keep a list of names I could never use again. It can sometimes be quite hard coming up with names. The new novel I have just finished took a long time to get going because I couldn’t decide on a name for the main character. When the right name finally presents itself, you want to be sure there aren’t any other impediments to using it, like having used the name before. However, having found the perfect name for my main character, I then completely overlooked the fact that one of the other characters has a recurring name. This time it’s the name Paul. In The Most Beloved Boy, Squire Paul Waltham is David’s brother and Dan’s nemesis. Actually, he is named after a marble too, and therefore also named after another boy from school. And perhaps that explains the recurrence; my latest novel is set in the 1990s and draws on some of my own experiences of school. In naming my characters, I wanted the names to be appropriate to the period and class status I was trying to recreate; these teenagers were born in the seventies to working class families, just like the kids I went to school with. Naturally, I looked back to names I was familiar with from school. Maybe the same boy inspired my new Paul. It suits him pretty well. But this time, I’ll have to change it. The two characters, though very different, carry the same weight of importance to their narrative, and I can’t risk them being confused. New Paul will have to become someone else. At least I noticed while it’s still in the first draft stage and therefore is easy to change. I have done name changes before so I’m not averse to the idea, even though there is now the challenge of finding another perfect name for him. But more importantly, I am updating my Banned Names List. From now on, I’ll have to pay more attention to it.