Saturday, December 10, 2011

What's in a name?

This week I had a book sitting on my desk that I'd just finished reading.  A student picked it up and looked at the cover.

"Is this any good?" she asked.
"Freaky scary good," I replied.

She returned it to the library and checked it back out and returned to the classroom.  After a minute she said, "Can I go take this back."

"What, you're not going to read it?"
"No, I don't like the names."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't like the names, they're like Carlos and Joey and Alex."

I was stumped.  This is a cool kid, not likely to be turned off by ethnicity other than her own.

"Is it because they're Hispanic? Boys?"
"No, it's not that.  I just don't like the names so I don't want to read it."

When I think about the books I've read and loved this year and the protagonist's names I come up with Katsa and Katniss and Marcelo, Peeta, and Gael.  Names are grittier in lots of ways.  Unusual.  Even in my own WIP - I have Roan and Slight and Whisper - names I don't hear in the halls at school.  Susan's and Gordy's don't show up much in MG or YA fiction these days.

Think about Katsa and Katniss - both start with crisp, strong consonants.  The 's' sound is like a hiss or a slither.  They sound strong.  They sound otherworldly.  And maybe that's what it's about.  When we read we want to escape, to experience life or another world through someone else's skin.

What are your favorite names from this year's fiction?  Do you think names make a difference?  Are you surprised by my student?  Do you think it's true of most young readers?  Looking forward to your thoughts!


  1. Intriguing, but you're so right. Never would've thought of this, but when I consider it, yeah. All my fave protags have strong, odd names....

  2. Huh. I haven't realized it, but I really like names that are unusual. I love the names Scott Westerfield came up with for his Uglies series--Tally, Zane, Shay, and David.
    Interesting observation.

  3. When I write, I actually do a lot of research for names. Meanings, etc to find what I think is perfect. When I've been asked to change names, it's tough. But I'd never seen it as something that would make a reader put the book down.

  4. Hi, me again. I just wanted to let you know that I've given you an award over at my blog. :)

  5. Names are important. But there will ALWAYS be a potential reader who'll pass because of your careful, thoughtful and even evocative choices. You can't guess what their associative mind does with your name-choices.
    I'm almost obsessive looking into meaning and common-associations of names. Good post, shining a light on this

  6. Thanks Jenna! I'll snag it soon.

    And Mirka - yes, I agree, you could get way too obsessive other this. But, it was so interesting to me I had to post a note about it.

  7. I've heard (and probably given) sillier reasons not to read a book but it's sad that she let the names get in her way especially after a great recommendation.

    Hmm, I'd have to think of the best names I've read. I use mostly traditional names in my books but I do research the meaning behind them usually.

  8. I'll admit that there are names I really don't like, but I doubt I'd ever stop reading because of that. Most names I don't even pay attention to while reading--it's just a marker that I glance at to ID the character. Granted, names that I can't pronounce easily, or don't know how to pronounce (I'm thinking Hermoine in the first few HP books, before I ever heard the name), kind of stump me. Interesting observation!

  9. Names do make a big difference, a lesson I learned a few months ago when an agent commented that my male protagonist's name was usually a girl's name. She's wrong, of course!


Hey, do you ever wonder why they call it 'your two cents?'