Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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What do YOU think of the name “Katherine”?

This is a fun post, but a) I can’t say that I have noticed a great preponderance of Katherines in recent novels, or b) I also can’t say that the name “Katniss” struck me as a form of Katherine. Does that seem to be kind of reaching, or is that just me?

On the other hand, it’s quite true that Kate Daniels (whom you may know from Ilona Andrews’ novels) doesn’t really seem to me like a “Kate.” But then, Anita Blake never seemed much like an “Anita” to me either, back when I still read those. Come to think of it, Kelly Armstrong’s Elena never seemed like an “Elena” to me. I think this may say more about me than about naming conventions for kickass paranormal protagonists. I expect I just prefer character names that are, I don’t know, not the names of people I actually know? I suspect it’s just hard to come up with names that aren’t too screwy and yet are unusual enough to avoid sounding like eveybody’s best friend from college.

Anyway, let me just mention, one big advantage to writing a secondary world fantasy is you will never, ever have anybody complaining that your character just doesn’t feel like a “Kate” to them. I definitely have three times more trouble naming characters for any contemporary-ish story than I’ve ever had for a secondary world fantasy. And I just can’t call them all X, Y and Z and plug the names in later (I actually do know someone who does this, but . . . really?)

Here’s a question: Has a character ever been so badly named (for you) that it interfered with your enjoyment of a book?

For me the immediate answer is YES. Pug, in Raymond Feist’s Magician series. I mean . . . Pug? Pug?

How about you?

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11 Comments What do YOU think of the name “Katherine”?

  1. Elaine T

    You have heard that Margaret Mitchell’s main character was originally named Pansy? The editor had her change it to Scarlett. Now THAT, I think, was a good change. Pansy sounds way too weak for the character. I’m pretty sure the character would have come off quite differently with her original name.

    Pug, I agree, it’s been a long time since I read Magician, but Pug just isn’t much of a name, especially for a protagonist. And wasn’t he the magician of the bunch? I suppose Feist could have been playing with expectations, but it didn’t work for me. Atrix Wolfe, now, that’s a name for a mage. I’ve seen complaints about McKillip’s tin ear for naming, but I don’t think she’s worse than anyone else. I can usually take a stab at pronouncing them, which is more than some writers manage.

    No, I don’t think Katniss is derived from Katherine. It’s not impossible, but it’s not an obvious derivative. And doesn’t the text say she’s named for a plant?

    I think the popularity of Katherine derived names for action heroines has something to do with the sharp sounds of the name. Hard edges, especially when you go to names like ‘Kate’. Signals a hard – edged character.

  2. Mary Beth

    I categorically refused to read Feist just on the basis of Pug’s name — I could not cope with a main character who shared a name with a small dog AND who made me think he had a pug nose. (I’ve heard I’m not missing much.) I also really, really struggled with Tad Williams’ MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN series just because the main character is frequently called (or nicknamed? I forget) “mooncalf” and I just can’t get over how silly that sounds.

    I can tolerate a great many flaws in characters, but silliness is one I cannot stand. It inevitably leads to secondary embarrassment, and then I have to put the book down and not pick it up again.

    There’s Kate Elliott’s Cat in the COLD MAGIC books, but I don’t think her name is a variant of Katherine, originally. (And I think Cat’s name suits her very well, but the book’s told from first person so her name is perhaps not overused.)

    I think Eliane’s right about the hard edges of the name–K is one of my go-to letters for a heroic character’s name just because of the sound and the shape of it. R and T are similar, whereas I almost always steer clear of B or P. Unconscious prejudices!

  3. Rachel

    I liked the original Magician series at the time, but I was younger then and perhaps a bit less discriminating. I can think back on it now and see plenty of things that ought to have bothered me. The universe got too baroque there at the end, for sure.

    And PUG. Pugs are nice dogs if you don’t mind snoring, but as a name for a character, it’s hard to think of anything worse. Halfway through, that character got renamed Milamber or something like that –and then actually chose to go back to Pug later in the series. Unbelievable.

    Pansy is a definite try for bottom place in names, though. Scarlett is so much better, I have a hard time imagining the author actually considering Pansy.

    In Patricia Brigg’s fantasy novel DRAGON BONES the main character renames a “killer” horse Pansy — just to make everyone quit thinking of the horse as a killer. Which would certainly work. If I had pit bulls instead of Cavaliers, they’d all have names like Pansy and Romeo and Tinkerbell. (And I’d put purple bows on their collars and take them out in public and show off their beautiful obedience ability, but that’s just me.)

    I agree that the shape and sound of a “K” is just attractive. And “R” and “T”. And “L”, on the softer side. But for one story, I specifically used a lot of B’s and P’s and G’s and other letters that I don’t usually find so attractive, because it was getting so hard to come up with words and names that looked different from the usual run of fantasy names. Actually, I used a lot of names from my handy desk reference to the mammals of Borneo, just changed a letter here and there. Got a great sounding language that way.

  4. Mike S.

    The authors I feel sorriest for are the ones whose character names become retroactively problematic. I’m not sure “Fax” was a great name for a corrupt feudal lord, but it didn’t deserve three decades of sounding like his father should have been named Telex and his son Email. (It may be that faxes have now become rare enough that The Kids Today no longer have that as a referent.)

    Worse was poor John M. Ford. While I don’t think it was the most euphonious possible name for the smart and seductive Orion consort to a Klingon admiral, Ford couldn’t have anticipated that Upjohn Pharmaceuticals would have different plans for “Rogaine” only a year or two later.

  5. Rachel

    Oh, forgot to say, the ONLY author where I can tolerate silly names is Terry Pratchett. I still flinch — Captain Carrot? Really? Tiffany Aching? But the later books are so good I can set that aside. The earlier Diskworld books, though? The names are a dealbreaker for me for those. Most of ’em I haven’t read and don’t plan to.

  6. Craig

    I remember Pug! Yes, terrible name. I also remember Fax, but had apparently managed to block Rogaine.

    The worst name I can remember offhand is from a book I never read but was so terrible I recall seeing it in a bookstore years ago: a generic fantasy with a male lead named Luthien, which is of course the name of Tolkien’s great First Age elven woman.

    A few seconds’ googling tells _Luthien’s Secret_ is the middle volume of a trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, and his full name is “Luthien Bedwyr,” which manages to make it even worse by combining it with a name from the Celtic version of King Arthur.

  7. Craig

    There’s a whole post about Bad Fantasy Names here
    http://bondwine.com/2013/01/07/gwladys-and-the-ghraemlan/

    which singles out Robert Jordan, apparently with justice:

    “Trollocs is a bad enough word, reminding one irresistibly of trollops as well as troll-orcs, but nothing compared to the ghastly names of their tribes: Ahf’frait, Al’ghol, Bhan’sheen, Dha’vol, Dhai’mon, Dhjin’nen, Ghar’ghael, Ghob’hlin, Gho’hlem, Ghraem’lan, Ko’bal, Kno’mon. A man who can perpetrate a travesty like that, and deliberately put it into print, should not have the freedom of the streets. He embarrasses the human race by ass’hoh’shieh’shun.”

  8. Elaine T

    Craig, that is why I refuse to touch any book by Salvatore, no matter how many people recommend his work.

    I remember picking up that first one, and putting it down gently but very very quickly when I got far enough down the jacket flap to grasp Luthien + man + Bedwyr. aaargh!

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