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"Favorite Character Name"
malaprop.jpg

To come up with an original character name is very difficult - and so often writers fall back on the common first names like Jack or Jane, and place names for surnames. If you want your female detective to be a bit tough, then it has to be Jane Glasgow. If you want to have your detective drink Perrier water then it is Jack Winchester. In the case of a forensic detective you can have the practical Jane Ledbury. But how about an impossible name, for a character nobody would take seriously, it would have to be Jack Wyre-Piddle II. All those place names exist. I think perhaps those connotations only work if you know your history and geography. In the late Eighteenth century the writers often used a moral palette to delineate their characters, this follows the older tradition of Theophratus and later Jean de La Bruyère. Of the Eighteenth century writers, one of my favourite writers is the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan author of the famous "The School for Scandal", "The Rivals", and several other plays. In two of his plays he uses the verb/noun "sneer" twice, once in the compound as Lady Sneerwell and another time as plain Sneer. Rummaging very quickly through my dictionary which was based on Sheridan senior's dictionary, I could think of Snub and Scoff as two names. Snub would be good for a low-class comical vehicle, Sir Thomas Snubbington for a knight who is arrogant, while an excellent  overly cultivated character of Franglais origin, would be Francois Scoffeur. Those are of course quick inventions and have to bow to the brilliance of my favourite character name - Mrs Malaprop. The name just says it all - and her name has lent itself to a linguistic disorder, i.e. malapropism - a common comical device, and seen in a character like Mrs Bucket (that's Bouquet) who is so obviously based on Mrs Malaprop, indeed the actor who played Hyacinthe Bucket, has played in Sheridan dramas. But this name, it is perfect, because not only does it have lots of associations regarding the problem with language, but one gets a feel of the character's dimensions. Mrs Malaprop has to be rather rotund, or generously endowed in the wrong places. She sounds like a meat pie. Her clothes are impossible. She has a wig that gives nightmares to all who see it. Quite simply one would have to snigger in her presence. Now Snigger, that's a good name too. There is a lot of mileage to be gained from any name beginning with sn-. Here is Mrs Malaprop in full flow:

"There, sir, an attack upon my language ! what do you think of that ? -- an aspersion upon my parts of speech ! was ever such a brute ! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs ! From "The Rivals" Act III, scene III.

I have in the past written a play based on Sheridan - and one of the characters I dreamt up - has quite literally taken life. But that is another story. I am trying hard to imagine how I might get along with Mrs Malaprop. It would be difficult as she is likely to say things that could turn situations very ugly. So to use  military cliches, my role would be one of containment or damage control. At least it seems that as ridiculous as she is, Mrs Malaprop is not poisonous. Think of the some of those French aristocrats who in their banter could cut;  cut the main artery of your position and future. Ouch! No Mrs Malaprop could if you allow, find herself comfortably in a 1930's novel by J.B. Priestley. She would be in a pub with other "cronies" (not a nice expression at all - but period - forgive me) drinking their stout. Once in a while she would adjust her stockings that have a curious habit of sliding down. She is much older than Sheridan's Mrs M. We might have her in her 70s. She is tea coloured. I mean her clothes. She smells of bleach. In the middle of the pub packed with greyhound afficionados - she shouts out every ten minutes "Well I never..." Now you can see the gradual decline, as Mrs Malaprop descends into a Monty Python character to be played by the late Graham Chapman - to be repeated on cable television until the end of time.