When outgoing Dr Who producer Russell T Davies wanted to revive the series, he needed a new companion for the eponymous Time Lord. He cast Billie Piper and he called her Rose. Pretty. English. Colourful. Romantic. He didn't call her Sharon or Colleen or Vicky. They're all perfectly respectable, nice names. But they didn't foster the image that Davies wanted for the character. And when he created his omnisexual time agent - later to make John Barrowman a star in his own right - did he ever once consider calling him Captain Derek? No. It was Captain Jack Harkness, a good solid heroic name. Jack conjures up visions of lantern-jawed airmen and brave sea captains. The name Harkness is perfect too. It has a mix of sharp and jagged back-of-the-throat voiceless velar plosives with a soft and sexy sibilant flourish at the end. In saying his name, Jack is always left pouting.
Flint. Clay. Black. Stark. Fox. Kane. All good, solid, monosyllabic heroic names. Snape. Fowl. Hyde. Glore. Grimes. Coward. All baddies or weasels. D'arcy. Quentin. Fanshaw (sometimes extraordinarily spelled 'Featherstonehaugh'). Giles. Percy. Ffolkes. Fops to a man. Piggins. Bunter. Flashman. Wooster. Waddle. Bender. The comic relief.
J K Rowling didn't call her boy wizard Nigel Philpotts. No, it was Harry Potter. His slightly less-brave comedy sidekick was Ron Weasley (with the brilliant middle name of Bilius). Harry's posh, clever female chum is Hermione Granger. The names are perfect. And look how Rowling sums up the characteristics of each Hogwarts' school house just by their names: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. You'd know, without ever reading the books, which is the 'evil' house, which is the strong, which is the brave and which is the house for the bumbling and mediocre.
And how many times have you heard the name Carter used for heroic figures? Is it some race-memory thing of hardy men driving wildly about the country in charge of big, powerful horses? It's almost become a cliche now. There was Michael Caine's character in the seminal 1971 Britflick Get Carter. There's Samantha Carter in Stargate SG1. There was John Carter of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs' sword-wielding, maiden-snogging star of the Barsoom Chronicles. Alan Carter was the beefy Australian space pilot in Gerry Anderson's Space 1999. Edison Carter was the intrepid reporter who became computer-generated TV star Max Headroom. There was even an indie band called Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. And for us Brits, there will always be Dennis Waterman's put-upon detective sergeant in 1970s hard-hitting cop show The Sweeney. How many times did we hear his boss, Jack Regan (another great hero name) shout 'Carter!!' A few years ago, there was a one-off Channel 4 comedy special highlighting the comic talents of the brilliant Jane Horrocks. The predictably named Never mind the Horrocks never made it to a series, but there was a fantastic sketch starring the lady herself, Martin Clunes and David Haig about a roadside recovery company a bit like the AA, RAC or Green Flag. The sketch was all high drama as if we were watching a top cop show and I distinctly remember that Clunes' character - a 'maverick who didn't play by the book but got results' - was always summoned with a cry of 'Carter!'
So, like it or not, we do have to think about names when we write. And it will be a brave man or woman who calls their hero Gaye Bumbershoot or Farquhar Piles.*
How about you all out there? What are your favourite names?
Oh, and if you ever need inventive or bizarre names, just check your email junk folders. Spammers obviously use some kind of random name generator to send out their shite and this week I've had mail (mostly about increasing the size of my member) from such characters as Zvonimir Hobbs, Boot Ho-Ming, Pedro F Spencer, Boniface Helmke, Gay Gildersleeve (excellent name!), Tomislav Hartwiger, Kort Nina, Lincoln Spud and the inspired Biff Geronimo. I must write a story involving Biff Geronimo.
I'll leave you with a clip from Never mind the Horrocks in which Jane plays a 1950s BBC children's TV host. I laughed so hard a little bit of wee came out.
*I apologise if you are called Gaye Bumbershoot or Farquhar Piles. I'm sure that you are, in fact, very very brave. You must be to live with names like that.