Hello, My Name Is Protagonist

Nov 17 2012 @ 11:19am

In a review of Alastair Fowler's Literary Names, Colin Burrow dissects the best and worst of character nomenclature:

Some fictional names are filled with semantic clues about the nature of their owners: you know that someone called Gradgrind will not be an advocate of child-centred learning, and that Luke Skywalker will not stay long on Tatooine. A character called Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt is likely to be able to offer a girl a big house, though ‘Mallinger’ suggests it will come at a price. But there are still mysteries. Even ‘invisible’ non-significative fictional names can ‘seem right’. Quite how they do so is as mysterious as the reason why in any given year several thousand parents will simultaneously become convinced that their daughter ‘looks like’ a Joanna or a Niamh.

P.G. Wodehouse apparently took the name Jeeves from a Warwickshire cricketer. Did the name sound right for a valet simply because it rhymes with ‘sleeves’? Wodehouse became rich by sounding ultra-British to an American readership. Perhaps ‘Jeeves’ so well suits the ultimate English gentleman’s gentleman because his name coolly eschews early 20th-century US slang: ‘Jeeves’ is definitely not ‘Jeeze’ or ‘Gee’, but contains hints of both. Or is this just fantasy?