Reader's Corner: Character Names

coffee-and-bookCharacter names. They are important,no? I know you all remember the Star Wars prequels and the horrific names George Lucas inflicted on us: Jar Jar Binks and Count Dooku. Count Dooku? The names are memorable for all the wrong reasons. I find it hard to reconcile that this is the same man who gave us Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Much better names, too, don’t you think? I don’t know about you but sometimes a character’s name can make or break a book. There are several different instances when a character’s name will pull me completely out of the story:

  • If a character’s name is similar to people I know and I happen to dislike them (strongly)
  • If the character’s name is too hard to pronounce and I spend most my time trying to pronounce it in my head like an idiot
  • Sorry, but nicknames drive me crazy
  • Character names that seem to be used too often
  • Character’s whose name(s) are straight up stupid and ridiculous like, well, Jar Jar Binks
  • Character names that are exotic, out there, seems like the author made it up out of thin air
  • Characters who are misnamed or the name doesn’t suit the character

There are more but I just can’t seem to think of them at the moment. Plus that first item about character’s names being similar to people I dislike – I realize that’s not the author’s fault. Anyway, some author(s) put forth a lot of effort in naming their characters and as a reader, I appreciate that. Character names are important. It’s as important as the plot, the characterization and the other elements of the craft of writing. I know this post was inspired by a badly named character somewhere but can you believe that I can’t recall that character’s name?


About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
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10 Responses to Reader's Corner: Character Names

  1. Trisha says:

    Was it a J.R. Ward character?

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    I agree with everything on your list, but would add the, “Right, your character is named [insert anachronistic name] in this time period?” name. And in the annoyance-but-not-a-dealbreaker-(yet) category: guys with some animal in their name/nickname/title. You know, all those Hawk—-, Raven—-, etc.

  2. Tee says:

    If the character’s name is too hard to pro­nounce and I spend most my time trying to pro­nounce it in my head like an idiot

    Yeah, that’s a difficult one for me too. Worse yet, is when I’ve struggled thru a good part of the story finally coming to terms with how I pronounce it in my head, then the author comes along and decides to tell you, in an indirect way, how the name is pronounced. Eeeeeh! Amanda Scott was famous for this in her historical novels.

    I can add another name challenge to your list. When the author creates male and female names for their main characters that sound quite masculine. For goodness sakes, I can’t keep them apart and individualized sometime. I continue to confuse who’s who in my mind all throughout the book. I think in the upcoming Nora Roberts’ book, the names are Mac and Con. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m anticipating mental overload as to keeping them straight in my mind.

    Or sometimes similar names are given to the main character as well as a secondary character. When so many names are available, why do they even do this? Of course, I can’t think of an example just now, but I recognize it when I’m continually asking the question, “now which one is this?”

  3. Avid Reader says:

    @Trisha – oh absolutely. See, I knew I forgot a few.
    @Tee – masculine names YES! A big annoyance for me too – Mac for Mackenzie or Alex or Curtis for women names. I remember reading the blurb on a book not that long ago and I thought the protagonist was male and it was not. Talk about confusion. As an aside, I remember having an argument with my co-worker (male, 60ish) who couldn’t believe Leslie was a girl’s name or could ever be a girls name. Heh.

  4. Daisy says:

    I hate overly “ethnic” names.

    I am not sure “ethnic” is quite the word I am looking for – for instance, Hannah Howell uses quite archaic names for her Scottish characters and they are so over the top, hard to pronounce that it drives me nuts. I do realize that they are probably correct for the time period in which they are set, but give those of us not up on our Celtic pronounciation a break – a glossary in the front of the book would help.

    I equally hate trendy names, and trendy spellings. What is wrong with spelling a name the way it is supposed to be spelled? Why is it necessary to get creative? Do only people with trendy names get lucky in love?

  5. Avid Reader says:

    Daisy: I equally hate trendy names, and trendy spellings. What is wrong with spelling a name the way it is sup­posed to be spelled? Why is it nec­es­sary to get cre­ative? Do only people with trendy names get lucky in love?

    Now that sounds EXACTLY like JR Ward’s books. However, the [mis]spelling of the character names was the least of my problems with her work.

  6. Kailana says:

    I hate when authors go too crazy with their names to the point that every time they come up I have to pause and try and figure out how to say them! It drives me crazy because it distracts from the novel…

  7. Li says:

    I hate cute-sy names. Especially in fantasy. I just commented on The Book Smugglers that Catherine Asaro’s fantasy series has a couple of character names I struggle with, such as Dawnfield. And as much as I loved Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling”, there was a character called Bitterblue which was on the verge of really annoying me!

    Kailana – I had the same issue with Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters books! I *love* them with a passion, but even a name as “straightforward” as Fainne, I kept on pronouncing as Fayne. And then I read that it was meant to be Fawn-ya (IIRC), and then every time her name appeared, I had to mentally correct myself. Sigh.

  8. Jennygirl says:

    There are a few books out there that name too many characters period. Too many names spells confusion for me, and that means I’ll be putting that book quickly. Some of the RR Martin series books were like that. They name characters and never go bcak to them again. I get that it’s a saga, but my mind just can’t handle it. Sorry.

  9. BookBoor says:

    One recent experience I had of detesting a character’s name occurred while reading Carla Kelly’s Marrying the Captain. The heroine’s real name was Eleanor I believe, but she is called Nana. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be pronouncing it in a manner other than the one used when referring to a grandmother. Regardless, I stumbled over it every time and it took away from what was otherwise an enjoyable story. Maybe I missed the explanation for the name because it baffled me the entire time. Great post!

  10. SarahT says:

    @BookBoor: I had exactly the same reaction to ‘Marrying the Captain’. As far as I’m concerned, Nana was my grandmother.

    Another name I’m having problems getting past is the heroine in Beth Kery’s ‘Wicked Burn’. She’s called Niall, which is a man’s name as far as I’m concerned.

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