Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Character names in contemporary fiction

Here’s an interesting rant I happened across recently: These Character Names Should be Banned Forever

Authors are forever naming a character Cassandra and having the other characters ignore her predictions, or slipping the word Abel into a character’s name and having them struck down by a trusted friend. They’re calling people Goodman or Christianson to show that they’re heroes. Grant Morrison just managed to claim the last acceptable use of Damian for the (symbolic) antichrist, and only managed to make it a surprise because he built it up for years. No one is going to be surprised if an angelic character named Beth dies, or a character whose name is based on Judas is a betrayer. …

This is something I’ve never noticed, actually. Except maybe for Cassandra, and there are certainly Cassandras who play entirely different roles in their stories.

The author of this post especially hates the name Katherine and all possible derivatives … which I think is a stretch, because she identifies Caitlin as a Katherine-derivative. But there are so many relatives of the name “Caitlin” that the whole concept becomes unwieldy, imo. Kaylin, Kayleigh, Kaylee, Cally, where does it stop being a variant of Catherine and start being a variant of something else? Keep going with this idea and Kali starts to look like a variant of Katherine, which it certainly is not.

I must say, I pick contemporary names that just somehow seem to fit the character, without much reference to literary uses elsewhere. Now I am inclined to name a character Cassandra just so I can a) have her not make predictions at all, or even more tempting, b) have her predictions be entirely wrong.

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6 Comments Character names in contemporary fiction

  1. Evelyn M. Hill

    I wrote a paper in school where I pointed out a number of hard-boiled detectives had the same names as Elizabethan writers (Spencer, Marlowe). The teacher wrote a rather withering comment to the effect that the authors had read English literature before they started writing.

    These days, I only notice names when they’re glaringly out of place. Far too many historical romances have heroines with Really Unlikely names. Not all historical romance writers do this, of course, but it’s one of those genres where anachronisms really stand out.

  2. SarahZ

    I don’t think it’s something I’d noticed as a big trend, but I will say that I was really peeved when I read a book where the big plot reveal required that you not guess that nice old Mr Crowley was the demon our main character was hunting. Also, JK Rowling drove me crazy with that stuff – oh, really? Remus Lupin is a werewolf? You don’t say.

  3. Megan

    Regarding a Cassandra with totally wrong predictions….. DO IT. :) Because totally wrong predictions hasn’t happened at all in books I’ve read, at least not coming from characters you’re meant to take seriously.

    Unless you want to count something like Sunshine’s obsessive worries with being a bad-magic cross, which strikes me as paranoia and not prediction, since she’s fantasizing really horrible things about herself and admits she has nothing to back up her suspicions.

  4. Pete Mack

    Yeah, using Crowley as mystery name is right up there with having a ‘monstrous regiment’ and expecting it to be a surprise when the membership is female. It’s fine if you use the name ironically, but as a classical allusion, a lot of names are just stale. (That said, JK Rowling gets a partial pass, as she was explicitly writing MG books.)

  5. SarahZ

    I get that they’re books for kids, but kids aren’t stupid, and I always resented books that assumed that I was – it gets a partial pass, but it still bugs.

  6. Rachel

    Evelyn — you’d think anachronistic names would be super easy to research and avoid. “Behind the Name” is a great resource that shows the popularity of names over time.

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