What’s in a name?
Want to know a secret? I have an unusual hobby, which until recently I hadn’t told anyone about …
No. It isn’t toe wrestling!
Or extreme ironing.
Or lion taming.
No! Not even the extraordinary art of Hikaru Dorondango. (Though I’m definitely giving that a try.)
My hobby grew out of a childhood habit. You may think me daft, but sometimes it makes me stop the car, brakes squealing, and zoom into reverse. Or stand as still as a statue in the middle of a bustling town, smiling like a Cheshire cat. It often has me reaching for my camera – and makes me late for appointments because I have to make notes.
No, it isn’t trainspotting.
Okay, time to confess … I have a thing about place names. I collect them. There, I’ve said it.
I used to get car sick, so it began initially as a distraction. However, I soon discovered that it was a great source of inspiration. Even though a road or place name may only consist of one or two words, it usually tells a story. Sometimes it leads you down a path to an intriguing make-believe destination … which may even wind up in a book. It doesn’t really matter. The fun part is the discovery.
I have all sorts of names in my collection. Here are some from my neighbourhood.
Steeple Bumpstead … I love this one and not just because it contains a three-letter word I shall avoid mentioning. I imagine hobbits living here in bumpy dwellings beneath a lofty spire.
Only the bravest venture to the edge of the Shire. Who knows what creatures lie in wait down Wildings Lane.
Which tree is the Witch Tree, I wonder?
My shire is full of surprises…
Some names are poetic and enchanting – like Durdle Door on the Jurassic coast in Dorset. It almost sounds like a spell, if you say it slowly.
But would you dawdle by Durdle Door? If you look closely at the cliffs, they resemble a dinosaur with his head in the sea.
You can imagine holiday makers fleeing for their lives when the monster stops drinking and looks around for his next course. Very Jurassic Park.
Meanwhile, other names are just a bit silly. (Thank you to Lauren Gummery for this one!) Perhaps Carter was tipsy when he drove his cart down here …
… and ended up here.
Zig Zag Road.
Definitely duck with this type of wind blowing! (St Andrews, Scotland.)
Seven may be a lucky number, but this place could be trouble too! (Saffron Walden)
Then there are the names that remind me of The Mirror of Pharos …
Alpha the wolf would definitely approve of this one.
For me choosing a place name for a story is really important. The actual words give me a feeling of what the location is going to be like and a strong image of the landscape and people.
Morton Muxloe, where Jack lives, is in the middle of England far from the sea. It’s an entirely fictional place and I chose the name to reflect how Jack feels at the start of the story – stuck in the mud. Morte and muck slow. It’s a wonderful town really, with a fabulous market square like the one in Saffron Walden close to where I live. But Jack needs to head for the coast and live up to his surname …
Be as nice as you can when you pass through here.
The ideal location for a match made in heaven? St Peter’s pearly gates could be just around the corner …