Monday, September 8, 2014

SFF names #4: Beth Bradley

The name Beth Bradley appears to be a bid for innocuousness -- a bit of a humblebradley, maybe -- and it has all the hallmarks of a particular school of YA heroine-naming. You are going for a kind of Austenian inscrutability and vague pleasantness. Think of Austen's Emma Woodhouse, Charlotte LucasCatherine Morland, or Elizabeth Bennett, how neutral, collected and deadpan they sound to modern ears. Perhaps to contemporary ears, alas that none now prick.

First, you should probably choose a plausibly common surname, plausibly white and British or American, plausibly middle class or lower-middle-class. Perhaps, as C.S. Lewis did with the name Pevensie, choose a toponymic surname. Bradley is in fact one of those. Otherwise, get her an occupational surname, but archaic enough that the toil it might imply has mostly crumbled away, picturesquely, and been ruffled over, quaintly, by moss: Miller, Weaver, Fletcher, Potter. (Or just choose Moss, or Morris: as in Myfanwy Morris). Too much work in Farmer, so it doesn't quite work.

Second, choose a plausibly common first name as well. Of course it does not literally have to be common: it just has to be plausibly common, which approximates to "common in recentish English literature." Clearly, you can get away with a less plausibly common first name if your surname manages to look very plausibly common, and vice-versa.

Beth Bradley. Not Elizabeth Bradley. Three to four syllables, over the full name, is your sweet spot. Anapestic prosody nice but not essential. (Is "Beth Bradly" the elusive antibacchius, BTW?)

Useful associations: any associations of poise, of petiteness, of balance, of warmth, of leafiness (the place-name Bradley meant "broad wood"), of mousiness, of chastity, of castles (Lewis's "Pevensie" is castle-ish by virtue of its appearance in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill; also compare Bradley Fighting Vehicle), of domestic interiors, of charity, of economic preciousness, and of prettiness. But don't overdo any of those associations: you want to be on the Sally Lockhart, Kitty Jones, Holly Short, Nora GreyNancy Drew side of Wendy Darling and Bella Swan.

Of course, if a somewhat stern first name can abbreviate into something fun, that's a plus: hence too many YA Cats. Hence for that matter Myffy Morris.

Hence Alexandra to Alex, Al, Lex. If Jane Austen had only known: Em Woodhouse, Cat Morland -- there, another Cat already -- Lottie Lucas, Beth Bennett. Yes, Lottie and Beth, not Charlie and Liz: because above all, you must alliterate.

Alliteration recalls perhaps a world of comics. Liz Bradley would not correctly evoke the feats of heroes like Wonder Woman or Ms. Marvel, the sniveling mediocrity of their everywoman alter egos like Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Susan Storm or Kamala Khan, the dastardly schemes of their antagonists like Lex Luthor, the love of their love interests like Lois Lane and Pepper Potts, or even the forgettable interventions of forgettable bit parts like -- well I truly believe they are out there too.

Jupiter Jones and Peter Pan will tell you the alliterative thing is not just down to Stan Lee.

Is that it? Is that all there is to the name Beth Bradley?

To be continued!

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