I was thinking the other day, that if I were to have an autobiography, I would call it Nasturtium. It’s such a vain, funny thought to have – what you would name your autobiography.
I have not, in case case you are wondering, got any reason at all to write one. I’ve lead a perfectly normal life. But I do love the word Nasturtium, and I do love imagining what I would call things.
I have lists on my phone – oh goodness I have so many lists on my phone – for what I would call different things. Lists of names for my bookshop, my restaurant, my podcast, my magazine. I love coming up with names for things. I even think of names for other people’s things. I brainstorm ideas for what I would call someone else’s story, someone else’s show.
I read a lot of Harry Potter as a child, and at one point someone bought me a book called The Magical World of Harry Potter. It went into detail about the origins of lots of the names in the stories – for example the word dumbledore actually means bumblebee in a particular dialect. Many years later, I came across a reference to “a dumbledore” in Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was where JK Rowling found it too.
Some names are beautiful because of their symbolism. These are often the names I glom on to. Names with layers of puns and jokes built into them. For example, the original Japanese name for the film Spirited Away is 千と千尋の神隠し (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi). It contains a whole host of puns, which are somewhat difficult to explain if you don’t speak Japanese (forgive me for saying that, I know it’s obnoxious), but which make me love the movie all the more.
There are also those names though, which are just so perfect in and of themselves. So beautifully fitting. How could Sherlock Holmes be anyone other than Sherlock Holmes? How could Harry be anyone but Harry? These names, in many ways, are so much harder than the “clever” names. The names which fit.
In the book series His Dark Materials, which some of you may have read, there is a very important knife. I don’t want to give away too many of its secrets. However, I don’t think it will ruin anything if I tell you that you can’t use the knife by simply slashing wildly. You have to be able to sense just where to cut. It’s not visible, the right spot – it’s just somewhere you can sense a natural opening.
For me, trying to find names which fit feels a bit like trying to find the perfect notch for the subtle knife. It’s a game I play, looking for that invisible opening in the universe.
And today, for me, it was Nasturtium.