What’s in a name?

Still brain dead, still not able to read. Makes for depressed kitten.

So, to perk things up, thought I’d do a little post on my favorite character names.

Names are hard — and so important. An author and a reader must live with them for a long, long time. Some authors try too hard and wind up with unwieldly or completely inauthentic-sounding names. This isn’t the greatest example, but I never did like the name Stingo in Sophie’s Choice. (And I don’t like the name Tom Wingo in Prince of Tides much either. Maybe I just don’t like “-ingo” names.)

The best names have a ring of authenticity, are memorable and descriptive, and somehow really embody the personality of the character…Dickens was a master at names, The King. David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Barnaby Rudge, the list goes on. Heck, when you think about it, the writer Charles Dickens couldn’t have had a more tailor-made name than Charles Dickens.

Here are some of my favorite fictional monikers, no particular order:

1. Holden Caufield (different, quirky, yet real)
2. Scarlett O’Hara (to think, Margaret Mitchell first named her Pansy!)
3. Ichabod Crane (that whole story is full of great names)
4. Ebenezer Scrooge (is there a better name for a miserly villain?)
5. Emma Bovary (memorable yet romantic. Hard to pick a fave out of some great literature named after women: Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre)
6. Beezus Quimby (now that’s a great children’s-book character!)
7. Rose-of-Sharon and the Joad family (it’s as if the names blew at Steinbeck straight from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl)
8. Raskolnikov (the very name feels like a moral tug of war)
9. Sherlock Holmes (would we be willing to follow detectives without their great names — Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan?)
10. Captain Queeg (closely followed by Captain Ahab. Somehow, though, Queeg really lives up to his name…)

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10 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Brandon says:

    I’ve always thought that Shakespeare came up with some great character names. I always thought names like Macbeth, Puck, and Prospero fit the characters perfectly.

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  2. litlove says:

    Great list of names, LitKit. I’ll add a few of my favourite French ones (cos French names always sound good anyway), Julien Sorel, the Vicomte de Valmont, Emma Bovary, abd the Marquise de Guermantes. They just roll off the tongue.

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  3. LK says:

    Brandon and Litlove, good choices, though Shakespeare is a dramatist, which is a whole other way to go. (Witness: Eliza Doolittle, Willy Loman.) I must preen a bit, because, even though I wrote the post on the fly, I think my choices are pretty solid. Though I might have to add Huckleberry Finn in there. Names are fun!

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  4. Dorothy W. says:

    PANSY??? Wow. I had no idea. That would have been a terrible choice.

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  5. Danielle says:

    I loved the Ramona books…do you remember, Jeezus Beezus?!

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  6. bloglily says:

    This is good stuff, LK. I wonder if there are some general principles of good literary naming? I hate all my character names — they never sound like what I want when I read them out loud, but I can’t figure out how to fix that.

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  7. mandarine says:

    According to my brother, Sherlock Holmes had been on the verge of being baptised J. Sherrinford Holmes, then Sherrington Hope. That was a close shave !Maybe a reason why we see so many inauthentic names in recent books or movies is that writers now have to avoid names of real people, otherwise they’re in for legal hassle.

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  8. Pauline says:

    I share the same concern as Bloglily. How to create names that feel “right”? For my current novel, I need lots of Russian names and I find them so beautiful, even though I have no clue if there’s a stupid meaning behind them!

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  9. LK says:

    Re character naming concerns: This would be a good blog post, I think. I will ponder on this. For now, I’ll say that I keep a notebook of names that “hit” me…and cull through when I’m in need. I would agree with Mandarine that lawsuits nowadays probably affect names more than we realize. (I may have trouble with my novel, as a friend of mine told me she knows someone with the name of my heroine! And that’s only covering Berkeley!)More later…

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  10. There’s Rastapopulous fromthe Tintin series as well.

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