Both as a reader and a writer I think that the names of characters can really make or break them. Names seem pretty simple at first glance, but honestly its something that can take a lot of time to come up with a name that fits a character. Personally, when I start writing a story I rarely keep the original name that I come up with for a character. I want something that isn’t generic but isn’t so wildly weird that no one can pronounce it or even I can’t spell right half the time.
One thing that bugs me as a reader about names is in particular in fantasy where the characters have similiar sounding names. One fault I find with Tolkein’s work is that he often did this, a father would have a name and his son’s name would simply have a few letters changed or added on. Now, before you get out your soap box and start preaching to me, I know that Tolkein was fixated on developing a language/culture and studied linguistics and yada yada yada. That’s all well and good, but what’s the excuse for more contemporary writers out there that do the same? I don’t know, I just find it off putting when everyone has similiar sounding names. Seriously, how often do you run into that every day? So, why does everyone in elf-land gotta be that way? It happens in other genres, but I find it mostly in fantasy, which isn’t a knock against the genre – just a bit of a pet peeve is all.
Some times a character’s name doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact some of the great villians of all time, in my opinion, have ridiculously simple names. Stephen King’s notorious monster/villian called It. Sweet baby Jesus, that character is scary as shit yet the name is simple. The name fits the character well if you’ve read the book or suffered through the godawful movie.
Another would be The Thing from John Carpenter’s movie of the same title. It’s simple and primordial and abstract, much like fear the characters experience themselves. The Thing represents the unknown and the undescribable. The very basics of fear itself. The name The Thing resonates with me because of those reasons.
Despite what I said about Tolkein before, he does have some great names in the Lord of the Rings books. In particular Gandalf and Strider and etc. A lot of the characters feel familiar yet ancient like something from myths of our collective past, which was part of Tolkein’s goal.
A good name fits the time period and culture that the story is set in. Buffy is a totally ridiuclous name for a vampire slayer but when you set that story in the ‘valley’ of California and make said slayer a former high school cheerleader then it does work. The name Buffy woudln’t work if it were a fantasy story set in the Roman empire. A good name is all about the context of the story.
So, what about you? Are there some names that really threw you out of the story you read and left you wondering what the author was smoking when she came up with the name? Or are there names that still resonate with you after reading a story/novel? Feel free to share in the comments below.