Names are really very important in books, I remind myself, as I forget literally every single one.
No, truly, I am horrible at names. Look at my family, for instance…I don’t even know what’s going on there. I have 5 siblings, 2 parents, 7 nieces/nephews, a dog, and a partridge in a pear tree. The partridge is ok. I call him Frank. I also call a ton of my niblings “Frank”. I cautiously say “hey you” to just about everyone else. I even misspelled my own name once and just sat here staring at it wondering what I did.
I’m really really really bad at names ok.
So if I can’t even get a grip on names of REAL LIFE HUMANS…book characters ain’t got a chance. But I want to point out why book characters’ names are really hard to remember?! I mean look:
- often YA is written in 1st person (I actually prefer 3rd, by the way) so we don’t even SEE the protagonist’s name!!
- there are a lot of the same names out there so they blur, mate
- I read too fast…we all know this. I can’t kEEP UP with me.
- if a name is super unfamiliar OR super average, my brain just goes “DELETE.”
- authors get super fond of like ONE letter and they use it to much and I die trying to tell Sal and Sam apart.
- I actually spend a lot of time misreading names…like my childhood hill to die on was Henry Huggins’ dog being named Risby (it was Ribsy) I fought this valiantly with my sister. I was wrong, obviously. Did it stop me? No.
- I’m also like that old grandpa who just yells wildly a name that sounds sort of similar and goes with it. Is your name Devon or Darren or Declan? IT’S ALL THE SAME.
So obviously I’m going to sit here and make a list of demands I ask for when it comes to book character names. Which is ironic for someone who forgets names all the time but OH WELL.
Linking up with Top Ten Tuesday: Best Character Names
1. THEY CAN’T ALL START WITH THE SAME LETTER.
Look as I say this, I do have a book with two minor characters starting with the same letter. So we can open up this entire list by yelling at me. bUT. As a general rule I avoid this like I avoid lettuce. (Which I’m intensely good at. Ask my family.) But look there are 26 letters in the alphabet. USE THEM, PLEASE, OH DEAR BOOKS.
I seriously read a book with a Maddox and a Maddison and mostly I am dead.
However it can work if the characters are super different and introduced differently and rarely take up scenes together. Cress and Cinder for instance (from The Lunar Chronicles)…I’ve never had a problem with them! But they’re actually rarely in the same scene. So. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
2. A LITTLE BIT O’ A THEME IS NICE.
Like names that sort of go together?! Like a nice patchwork quilt. Get all those colours melding like me into the wall when I’m expected to socialise. Self five. Like I enjoy how The Hunger Games had a lot of THINGS as names (Primrose, Clover, Glimmer, Thresh, etc. etc.)
One complaint (out of MANY lol lol I’m sorry) I had with Iron Gold was how there was a character called Liam. But everyone else is like Darrow! Sevro! Cassius! Ephraim! DUDE, HOW DID LIAM GET IN THERE.
3. I KIND OF LOVE WHEN NAMES DEFY “GENDER RULES”
I don’t quite know why names “have” to be so gendered anyway. Eat me. * I am totally happy to read Angel as a boy and Devon for a girl!
PS. Actually most of my own books feature gender-neutral character names and it is something that pleases me muchly so.
* Actually I am very salty. I would probably not be healthy for anyone to eat.
4. SHORT NAMES ARE KIND OF MY FAVOURITE.
Less letters to forget. It’s really helping me out here. Although that saying, I generally only pay attention to the first 2 letters in a name anyway so…yeah, well my bad.
5. NICKNAMES = NO GO, PLEASE DON’T, I LITERALLY BEG OF YOU
This is the quickest way to have me run screaming underneath the opera house until someone throws a chandelier. I just can’t. If a character gets introduced as a name —> KEEP THAT NAME. Like it’s okay if your character’s being called Jon and their full name is Jonathon…just don’t switch it around constantly on page, ok?! (Unless they’re being yelled at.) Consistency is key for baking cakes and using nicknames!
6. SOME NAMES SHOULD BE ON THE “TOO TIRED TO REUSE” LIST.
Because they come up a lot. I love you Simon, I do, but wHICH ONE AM I TALKING ABOUT. Simon in Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon from Shadowhunters?? There’s a Simon in Furyborn, Simon Snow from Carry On, Simon in Spiderwick, Simon in Nanny McPhee.
SIMON SAYS WE NEED TO STOP GOING WITH SIMON.
7. I LOVE NAMES THAT HAVE SIGNIFICANT MEANING IN BOOKS!
Okay I confess this happens in both my upcoming novels. Beck from A Thousand Perfect Notes simplifies his name because he’s embarrassed, and Sam from The Boy Who Steals Houses gets constantly misnamed as “Samuel” when it’s not his true full name. I have thing here ok.
But I love this in books!! Like:
- Julian Blackthorn in Lady Midnight hates his childhood nickname of “Jules” and Emma uses it to put distance between them.
- Gansey from The Raven Cycle goes by his last name because his first name is, um, Dick.
- Kell from A Darker Shade of Magic doesn’t even KNOW his full name. He only has his initials: K.L.
- Puck from the Scorpio Races has a real name of “Kate” and I’m not actually sure why she goes by Puck??? But I like it.
- Neil in The Foxhole Court has significant feelings/memories attached to his old name (Nathaniel…yeah he’s great at undercover names haaaa) and when he’s traumatised, he slips back into referring to himself as his old name because he associates it with pain.
- In Here Lies Daniel Tate, we never even find out the main character’s REAL name because he is so good at having no identity. He’s literally blocked it so he is Nobody when he’s not running a con.
8. I AM 100% IN FAVOUR OF CULTURES EXPRESSING THEMSELVES THROUGH NAMES TOO.
Diversity is taking over YA and it is glorious to see other cultures and their names marching down the hill to devour the bookstores. GOOD ON THEM. I struggle with names, yes, sure…but I want it to be just as normal in YA to see “Emma” as it is to see see names like Aru, Kiko, Miel, Lada, and Twinkle.
9. FANTASY KEYBOARD SMASH NAMES STILL … WOUND ME MORTALLY.
I can’t even with Eragon. I just…like if you asked me what the actual country is called, I would very confidently say, “Algeasfasdkh.” And I still maintain in Throne of Glass her name is Celery Sardine. And in Of Fire And Stars?? I’m still trying to cope with Dennaleia and Amaranthine.
AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON GAME OF THRONES. Danarygygyg Targygyggy is a great character but also: why.
10. I CAN’T DEAL WHEN SOMEONE I KNOW IN REAL LIFE HAS THEIR NAME IN A BOOK.
Is it just me or is it super weird?! The only time I’ve come across my name (CAIT) has been in Three Dark Crowns and it was for 2 sentences for some old grandmother who died probably. It was sooo weird. And in Gallagher Girls one of them has the same name as my brother and THAT’S JUST WEIRD. Also my niece’s name is Eva, and you know how often the derivatives of EVE come up in books.
It’s doomed. I can never concentrate. My relatives have ruined so many names for me. Useless creatures, they are. I suffer.