Character names can be a little bit of a minefield. Whether you’re naming them or reading them, every name has the potential to conjure up a spectre from our past. Have you ever noticed that? A little bit like when my ex-husband wanted to name our unborn son after his brother and I thought, ‘Oh hell no!’ Luckily I had an ex-boyfriend with the same name and once I played that card that one went out the window. Whew.
The bathroom book I’m reading at the moment has a character named Laurent. Not even a Frenchman but living in Paris. Every time I pick up that book, I remember the Frenchman named Laurent I first saw in Paris when I was fifteen. My very first love. The one you never forget. The reason why Yves Saint Laurent is and always will be the beauty brand for me.
I find myself thinking back to that hot July day in 1994 when I was standing on the square in front of Notre-Dame with my newly acquired set of ten postcards. I had a blue leather bag that my grandfather’s sister had made slung over my shoulder (don’t laugh, it was nice) and the rest of my group was milling around the square or trying to get into the cathedral. He came walking towards me at the head of another group, and when he smiled at me I swear the world stopped spinning.
For the next three weeks I floated on a cloud made of ice cream, crêpes and Breton cider. My son has heard about the ice cream parlour Chez Sanchez all his life. I’ve promised I’ll take him to Saint-Malo one day. It’s a charming town in Brittany where the old city is surrounded by ramparts and the tide rises to the highest level in Europe. On stormy evenings it splashes across the roads and the Chauteaubriand (the writer, not the dish) is buried on an island in the bay.
That summer the sun shone every day. In love for the very first time, I couldn’t imagine the day when I would have to pack up and go home. Leave the place where the kind family I stayed with served three courses with every meal and introduced me to shellfish. Leave that beautiful country filled with crispy baguettes, hot cups of café au lait and the presence of that young man with the soft brown eyes who made even the most mundane day extraordinary. All those feelings when nothing ever happened between us.
Never ever have I remembered those days as vividly as I do now. Not even when I was living an hour away from Saint-Malo and would drive there to go Christmas shopping. But now, just because of reading that one name in a book I’m not even really enjoying, I am transported back in time. I remember every cobbled street. I remember the little keyring I bought for him. I remember ever smile, ever laugh, ever shared crêpe au chocolat. The goodbye note he wrote me where he gave me his address and phone number.
All because of a name.
I don’t for a moment believe we choose our character’s names by accident. Not the ones that matter.
Maybe one day I’ll give a character of mine the same name. Now you’ll know why.