Saturday, January 09, 2010

List of the Month - Randomly generated names for characters in a novel

It all began with Katrina Grinsley - remember her?

My most esteemed blog-compadre JES uses an anti-spam security widget called ReCAPTCHA. It's a word-verification system, but - unlike the single, randomly generated nonsense words that Blogger's word verification entertains or mystifies us with - it uses random pairs of words (or word-fragments, or numbers) taken from actual texts. It's a worthy project, you see, to try to use a small fraction of our time spent online in contributing to the task of producing digital versions of hard-to-read conventional texts (more details here, apparently - although I can't get it to download just at the moment). It's a great little gizmo; but, alas, I don't think Blogger allows it as a plug-in, so I'm stuck with boring old single-word spambot-catchers here on my blogs.

I've spent such a lot of time on JES's marvellous blog over the past year or so that I must have been exposed to many hundreds, if not thousands of these ReCAPTCHA word pairings by now (I don't think any other blog or website I visit regularly employs this system, so it's entirely down to JES). There's always one waiting for you down there at the bottom of the comment form, even if you're not commenting yourself. And I'm such a tech-ninny that I can't be bothered to work out how feed-readers work; I just leave favourite blogs more or less permanently open in their own browser windows, and 'refresh' every few hours to see if there have been any new comments - and hence I get to experience a number of different ReCAPTCHA pairs almost every day, even on just the one blog.

When I first encountered that siren of the Yorkshire Dales, Ms Grinsley, I was struck by the apparent unlikeliness of the coincidence that ReCAPTCHA would produce such a plausible British name. At that time, it seemed to me, proper nouns - or any words with an initial capital - were cropping up very rarely, even as one half of its word-pair puzzles.

Since then, however, they do seem to have been becoming much more common. There was a bit of a 'hot streak' at the end of the summer where possible names seemed to be coming up more often than not.

And, of course, I got into a habit of recording them. I thought they might come in handy one day - for filling out the bit parts in a novel or something, you know.

Here, then, is my List of the Month.....

Randomly Generated Names For Characters In A Novel

Pauline Babbitot

Chester Behring

Dave Westminster

Henry Wise

Felix Meisner

Mary-Anne Dupree

Susanna Norplant

Arthur Vicente

Howard Woolley

Ernie Rockwood

Crispino Doty

Lord Bost

Kerkam Geiger

Grandmother Hodgman

Marc Bartik

Lawrence Striker

Shirley Fermat

Wallis Hemphin

Neil Bendix

Benjamin Medleys


JES said...

Oh, well done! I've never thought to actually keep a log of the things; closest I came was when I got a (never-written) title from one -- [The] Touraine Passenger.

Quite a few of the names in this list are spectacularly Wodehousian, which makes me wonder if a counterpart list from an American would be much different.

Academicians go off on such oddball treks of research and speculation that I'd be surprised if none has yet investigated reCaptcha-type associations from the perspective of Gestalt psychology. In geometry, people need at least three points to see simple shapes, but reCaptcha's word pairs often conjure up whole steamy rain forests of meaning and narrative.

Froog said...

There's very little input from me here. I think anyone would recognise these as names (and not, for the most part, specifically English, much less British, names).

There's very little manipulation or 'cheating' in this list. I think, with all but a couple of exceptions, these pairs occurred in this order, and with initial capitals.

It wasn't as though I was seeing medley benjamin and thinking, "Oh, 'medley' could be a surname, but maybe it would sound better as a plural." They all really came out of ReCAPTCHA like that.