What's In A Name? The Pink Floyd Effect

The Pink Floyd Effect – The process of a name becoming perfect for its subject through familiarity with that subject and/or its actions.

Names. Very powerful things. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with demonology or the occult will tell you what a powerful thing a name can be. If you know something’s true name, you have great power over it. Maybe that’s why Prince changed his name to a symbol, which is very hard to pronounce in spells – could he be a demon, hunted by occult adventurers? But I digress.

[Editor’s Note: strong language after the jump, and political opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author]

 

I’ve been thinking about this lately because we rescued a tiny stray kitten last week and he appears to live here now. He has a strangely large chin and I said, “He’s like Stan from American Dad.” Henceforth, the kitten’s name is Stanley. He’s very cute, really. Look:

stanley Whats in a name? The Pink Floyd Effect.

When I mentioned this on Facebook and Twitter, people were universally besotted with him, but the reaction to his name was interesting. A lot of people thought it was a great name and many people complimented me on giving him a “proper” name. I presume they meant as opposed to Tiddles or Mr Snookums. Other people were very confused and made comments like, “Stanley? Really!?” A couple of people even pointed out that he looks like a Stanley. Which he does, of course, because that’s his name. Chicken and egg.

The name and the named grow into each other and become inseperable. I guarantee that within a few weeks, our new kitten and the name Stanley will be completely normal, at least to us. It happens in every walk of life. For example, my favourite band of all time is Pink Floyd. Stop and have a look at that name. When you hear it, you think of the band and all the amazing work they’ve done. But really? Pink Floyd? The etymology is interesting. They started out called The Tea Set, then one day found themselves on a bill with another band called The Tea Set. So Syd Barrett suggested a name he’d been keen on for a while, based on his two favourite blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. So they played as The Pink Floyd Sound. After a few gigs they dropped Sound, but remained known as The Pink Floyd. Usually known simply as Pink Floyd since the early seventies, the definite article is still used occasionally even now. But really, when you think about it, Pink Floyd is a bloody silly name. However, it’s also awesome as it contains and references everything about one of the most seminal bands of all time.

So of course, I relate this name situation to fiction. Names become incredibly important when we’re writing. I agonise over names – it’s probably the thing that gives me the most grief when I write. I want to get names just right. I want them to fit. But the truth is, whatever name I give a character will fit if I tell the story well and write the character convincingly, because the character and the name will grow together and seem like it was always the perfect match. I call this ‘The Pink Floyd Effect‘.

Drizzt Whats in a name? The Pink Floyd Effect.I think the important thing is to not try too hard when coming up with names for your fiction, especially if you write fantasy. Remember, the apostrophied name is so overused now that it’s become something of a joke. Characters like Drizzt Do’Urden owned the concept back in the day, but now it’s seen as overly try-hard, or extreme wankery, to include crazy apostrophied names in your fantasy fiction.

In Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, I was initially really annoyed at the name Durzo Blint. It annoyed me because it seemed uneccessarily “fantasy”, and it still does annoy me a bit. But the name also now conjures for me everything about that character, and he’s a character I really like.

Let’s look at it from another real world example. I’ll write a name, you be aware of your immediate reaction. Ready?

Rodney King.

That’s a pretty ordinary sounding name in and of itself, but I bet you had a pretty visceral reaction to it. The man, the name and the events for which he’s known have become ingrained in our culture and the name carries a lot of power because of it.

Let’s try another one:

Errol Flynn

Calm down, ladies. Take a deep breath. Errol Flynn is actually a pretty funny name, and you might feel a bit sorry for anyone with a name like that these days. Although I do quite like the name Errol myself. But there’s no denying that it has power.

Okay, one more:

Sarah Palin.

Did you feel yourself get a bit dumber just then? Just reading or hearing the name actively destroys brain cells and enhances right wing idiocy and religious insanity. And that’s a name that could become much more powerful if the American people don’t take a moment to get their shit together. But in itself, Sarah Palin is a pretty ordinary name.

So, my point is this: Don’t over-stress the names you use, be it for your pets or the characters in your fiction. The Pink Floyd Effect will kick in with time and the name and the named will become one and the same thing. And potentially attach themselves to events people are aware of around the world.

When you’re writing your fiction, spend some time to think about the names, make sure they have a good ring to them, are easily read off the page and stuff like that. Then put your effort into writing the characters and the story as well as you possibly can. By the time you’re finished, the names you’ve chosen will be perfect.

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Agree or disagree? Please feel free to share your thoughts and examples in the comments.

 

This is a reprint from Alan Baxter’s The Word.

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