Daphne Du Maurier's Big Mistake

Posted on 18th January, 2015

Recently, Wendy Percival, author of the Esme Quentin novels, blogged about choosing names for her characters and why the right name is so important.


It set me thinking. The heroine in the book I am editing is called Carrie, though she started life as Julia; but Julia was the wrong name and so began the process  of finding the right one. For a while she was Polly, then, briefly, Kitty. Then Carrie sprang to mind, and that was perfect.


That's the thing about the right name. When you find it, you recognise it instantly.


There are all kinds of reasons for picking a name. If a story is set in the past, the name must be of the time. Or perhaps you want to create a particular impression - John Wayne as opposed to Marion Morrison.


And then, of course, there's hair colour. Please tell me I'm not the only one who assigns hair colour to names.


I once had a character called Rachel. The trouble was, she was fair-haired and - with apologies to blonde and auburn Rachels everywhere - inside my head, Rachel is a dark-haired name, so a new name was needed.


Which brings me to Daphne Du Maurier.


Rebecca is a wonderul novel - except for one thing. To me, Rebecca is a dark-haired name and yet Daphne Du Maurier persisted in referring to her as fair. All these years later, I still remember that feeling of wanting to shout, 'No!' whenever Rebecca's colouring was mentioned.


Is it just me? Do others assign hair colour to names? Please put me out of my misery and tell me I'm not alone.



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Comments (5)

You're not alone, Susanna. I also assign hair colours to names. Thank you for highlighting this important issue for readers and writers everywhere.

Choosing the right name for a character is critical, a bit like choosing a name for a child. My daughter was 'nameless' for a full week as the name we'd thought of calling her didn't suit the baby who'd blessed our lives!

In addition to the time period in which a story is set, cultural and geographical context are also important. In addition to baby name books, I use 'top name' lists for particular countries at the time a character was born. This is especially important to me since I write about non-British characters.

Thank you for an interesting post!
Character name and hair colour? I didn't see the connection until you mentioned Rebecca. No way is she blond whatever her creator said. Some names are neutral though - Margaret could be anything, although Maggie is dark....
I've been working with a character for sometime. I didn't like her. She was abrasive, tightly wired after a wretched divorce, too certain of her own opinion being right but as I've written I've grown to like her, to see the world through her eyes so I had to change her name from Avril which I detest (sorry to any real Avrils out there) to Ava. Funny business this writing lark...
I agree with the previous comment Rebecca and Karen are dark haired and Sarah is fair. Cindy is fair and Mary is dark as is Mark (maybe this all boils down to people we know!)
I agree that naming of characters is important and like you, Susanna, I changed the name of my heroine several times before I was happy with her. I must spend more time on choosing names than the actual plot of a story. Thank you for the interesting post. Have a great week.
I've never really thought about this before, but I agree with you that Rebecca is a dark-haired name!! I wonder if it's something to do with the name being 'soft' or 'hard-sounding'? I also think Karen is a dark-haired name but Sarah, for me (soft-sounding) is blonde! Thanks for the thought-provoking post!