No, not the people who live in Finland. Those others, who keep popping up in fiction. What’s with the name Finn? It tends to be a certain type of fictional character who’s called Finn, or Finnigan. I wonder why?

My most recent example is Finnigan in Sonya Hartnett’s Surrender. He’s a real wild one.

Linda Newbery has a mysterious, if older, Finnigan in her new book Nevermore.

And the free boy in What I Was by Meg Rosoff is called Finn.

I’m fairly sure Celia Rees has a Finn in one of her horror books, set in South West Wales. Again, a sort of free spirit.

I love the name, but find it strange how it gets used. I wonder about the thought processes that determine what name an author gives their characters. Is it along the lines of “I’ve got this outsider type, romantic character, so let’s go in the Celtic/Irish direction and name him Finn”?

Even Kian in Cathy Cassidy’s Scarlett has the same ring to it. What other romantic names of this kind are there?

28 responses to “Finns

  1. Finn is the father in Mortal Ghost. But I don’t believe a writer should ever discuss their own work or the reasons for the choices they’ve made.

  2. Yes, I knew I’d seen it somewhere else recently!

    Of course you should discuss it, Lee. How else can I know how you picked the name? How did you pick the name?

  3. Finn is in Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop too. Not a children’s book at all, really, but a stunning study of a girl’s adolescence,

  4. I remember now. It’s a long time since I read it.

  5. But Ann, it’s the text that matters – that fulfills or fails – not whatever I might have been thinking.

  6. Finn is the name of the dashing free-spirited boy hero in Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson, whom Maia is inevitably destined to fall for one day. I read it assuming it was a conscious tribute to Huckleberry Finn, since the boys live similar river-bound lives.

    I do think certain names carry baggage with them; they are a useful shorthand. (Maia, above, is another obvious example – it tells you heaps about her character). Because names in fiction are not arbitrary like real names, they cannot help but be contrived, even if the contrivance is slight and unconscious.
    I think using a resonant name is like casting a star; loathe him or only mildly dislike him, when you see Tom Cruise on the screen, you know which male character you are intended to be interested in.

  7. My subconscious clearly knew there was something in Finns, despite me forgetting so much. I haven’t forgotten Ibbotson’s book, which I love, but I’m very bad at remembering names for characters.

    But if I were to write a book of fiction, an occasion which would have to be related to flying pigs and other phenomena, my super handsome adventurous wild character would have to be called Walter.

    Who’s Tom Cruise?

  8. Finn Silverweed (who started out as Cathy) arrived out of nowhere one night as I was falling asleep and he was so convincing he made me get out of bed and begin to rewrite the whole damn book, Soundtrack, that I’d just finished – in his voice instead of Cathy’s. (Poor Cathy was ruthlessly disposed of – is there an alternative universe, I wonder, peopled by discarded characters? Now there’s an idea.)

    He never told me why he was called Finn. But, guess what, he’s a boy following his own heart, from a west of Scotland fishing village with a Celtic/Norse heritage…. so obviously he HAD to be a Finn.

    But I couldn’t find a single other Finn in children’s fiction back in 1999. (Not that I’m staking a claim to the First Finn or anything…)

  9. One of mine is a Finn, I had no idea it carried such literary baggage. We called him that because he was born on the appropriate Saints day (he’s actually a Finnbar) and his grandad grew up in Cork which has Finnbar as its patron. Have to try him with the Eve Ibbotson – sounds like an appropriate role model. Mind you my second one is named in honour of Colm Toibin.

  10. To think that I even doubted this as a topic?

    Pb – nice to find a real Finn. The Ibbotson is one of the best books…

    Julie – I can see that a Finn would make you re-write a book. At least it goes to prove the character HAD to be called Finn. I’m sure there is a world with Cathys and others in the books.

    I’m beginning to suspect that my picture of Finn stems from The Magic Toyshop.

  11. I like the idea of an ‘Inkheart’ style story peopled by characters that got edited out. Although non-authors might not identify with it so much. Along the way we might meet Bingo Bolger-Baggins, who was mercifully replaced by Frodo at the eleventh hour. (Imagine…)

  12. My Finn is a nod to Huck (surely literature’s most famous Finn?) and also to Phineas in A Separate Peace, which was the original inspiration for What I Was. Sometimes it’s fun to go against type — I’m not sure Agyness Deyn was in full force when I named the fashion victim heroine in Just In Case, Agnes — it just sounded like a name so fusty and old granny-ish, that it was time to reinvent it.
    My books were alloted an entire chapter in a published thesis from U of Arizona about names in children’s books, so it’s obviously a subject people (at least in Arizona) are interested in!

  13. Glasgow’s version of Agnes: urban legend says there were once so many Agnes’s in the city that, in typically daft & gallus style, it was turned backwards and Senga became the hot name of the ’50s.

    From the Urban Dictionary: “Senga’s hang around park benches in groups smoking and lusting after passing neds. They are not dangerous but will spit abuse/flem/buckfast at you if given the chance.”

    So un-PC of me…. (but I’m from Glasgow and it made me laugh.)

  14. There’s also The Thing with Finn, by Tom Kelly.

  15. So many Finns…

    Julie – Your Urban dictionary; The Resident IT Consultant has a great grandfather called Urban.

  16. I’ve got a Finn (as yet unpublished) as a secondary character, brother to someone with an Irish name, so it fitted. But the slightly wild element fits too.

  17. *rushes breathlessly over from own blog where, busy posting, did not notice the bookwitch knocking on the door*

    It’s a busy place this blogosphere.

    Urban? Really? Wonderful. I’m stealing him. In fact, Urban and Senga sound such an unlikely couple they’re surely made for a story.

    Have we done all the Finns? Bookwitch, we need another name! Otherwise, I’ll have to work.

  18. There’s also that famous Finn in that film… what was it called now… great music, really sinister, by John Williams.
    Oh yeah.


  19. Julie – I was about to rescue you with another name, when I discovered you’ve got a book to finish. Get on with it! And you can have Urban. His son lived in Bridge of Weir, and somewhere else I’ve forgotten.

    Nick – Naughty boy!

  20. Thank you, bookwitch, the temptation would be too great. I will get on.

    (PS There’s someone over at my place really wants to meet you. A kindred spirit though not a witch, as far as I know. But you probably knew that already, with your witchy sense.)

  21. With nine minutes to go: Happy Exodus US publication day, Julie!

  22. I’ve got a cat called Finn, as well! (Named after I’d finished NEVERMORE, with a character called Finnigan.) And, like the Bookwitch, I’d begun to notice all these Finns.

  23. Finn is in my a book i read called wild magic by cat weatherill. He is a beautifal elf from Elvendale who is under a curse and he turns into a fearsome beast each full moon. The book is about 2 children called Jacob and Marianna, hence my name, they are brother and sister and they help finn overcome his curse. It is really good. You should read it. It feels so real.

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