This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (from The Broke and the Bookish) is totally up my alley: Ten Character Names You Love/Ten Unusual Character Names (and for me, these usually go hand in hand). Character names are super important to me, both when writing and when reading. I noticed this first when in a fiction workshop, a girl wrote a story that was meant to be a modern retelling of Alice in Wonderland (or something?) and named the main character Alyce or Alys or some ridiculous spelling of it, even though no one in her family was as obsessed with the original work as the main character (fact: I don’t think anyone else in the story even liked it). I could not get over how utterly unrealistic it was that her family would (a) name her after the Wonderland character or (b) give her an annoyingly bastardized version of the name, given the setting of the story and the otherwise “traditional” family names.
I’m all for being creative, but Alyce? Really? Yuck. At least give me a reason to have spelled the name differently. You really aren’t helping your character anyway.
But I digress. This post is not about bad character names I’ve read in fiction-writing workshop (though, the fact that this one has stuck with me for about 4 years really says something about my obsession with having appropriate character names). There are some characters whose names I really love; these are the characters I could not imagine (that could not make sense to me) by any other name.
Cooking & Compositions Top Ten Best Character Names
Septimus (and his six older brothers), from Stardust by Neil Gaiman. All of the sons of the Lord of Stormhold have excellent names, denoting the order in which they were born. This is simple, memorable, and works really well for the genre Gaiman is writing in. I also like Septimus because it sounds very distinguished.
Bernard Marx, from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Brave New World is one of the first books I can remember reading where the character names were allusions. I think this is probably the book one of the books to which I can attribute my obsession with having good character names. Plus, Bernard Marx flows really well, and the trip-R is soothing paired with the harsh X at the end of the name.
Oedipa Maas, from The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.
Oedipa Maas (and every other allusion to anything else in the book) is like finding a puzzle piece that has the right curves and corners on all the right sides, but it just doesn’t fit. Oedipa, of course, is an allusion to good ole Oedipus, but I don’t recall if there are really many parallels between Oedipa and Oedipus (it’s been a while since I’ve read Lot 49). I also had a third grade teacher named Mrs. Maas, so the last name draws up a lot of pleasant memories for me.
Doris Kilman, from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Again we have a name that really represents the character. Doris and Kilman are both ugly names. Doris Kilman is not a pleasant woman in the novel. Her name is a stand-out, though, because it seems like a very normal, mundane name. I could imagine a person actually being named this. Some people are just granted with unfortunate names. Does the person make the name, or is it the other way around? These relationships are just more apparent in fiction.
Snowman, from the MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood.
There are a lot of names I could have placed here, but I picked Snowman because I think his name most obviously represents him. There is Glenn/Crake and the Crakers, and also Oryx, all names that I like because of relationship to extinct animals in the novels. But Jimmy as the Snowman is perfect. He doesn’t look much like the Crakers, which his name represents. I also like this name because I think of snowmen as very fragile things. It’s not that Snowman is necessarily fragile, but he’s definitly at risk of melting away as one of the last members of his species. I have MaddAddam on my bookshelf, taunting me until I am finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and I’ll be honest: I can’t wait to meet back up with all of the characters and see where things go.
Rowena Ravenclaw, from Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Again, another book where I could have listed a lot of characters. I love alliteration (so all of the founding Hogwarts wizards are a possibility), and I have named a lot of cars after HP characters. But I love Rowena Ravenclaw because it’s just so musical. Rowena is also a very unique-sounding name, but one that feels like it could be common. I also like it because Rowena isn’t a popular character, so only people who are really into the books or movies understand what my car’s name is. Because yes, my car’s name is Rowena, and yes, I might have purchased her in blue just so I could name my car Rowena. These are serious things to consider.
The boy, from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I bet this one feels like it’s coming out of left field. But Caitlin, you’re thinking, how can you like such a generic name when the whole premise of your post is that you like names that are really strong, that really represent the character? But that’s the point exactly! The generalness, the emptiness of just calling the boy “the boy,” or son, and never explicitly naming him says so much. This boy could be any boy. This father could be any father. For me, there is something really powerful about that.
Tally Youngblood, from Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.
Tally was not initially on my list. I love the Uglies series, but for the life of my I could not think of what any of the characters’ names are. I haven’t read these books in years, but I still consider them very, very fondly. They are some of my favorite books. So when I was one short for this list, I did a google search to find a list of the characters. I immediately remembered how much this name suits the character, especially early in the novel. There is something both generic and unique about it, fitting the person Tally becomes over the series. To cement her ranking in my list, I also found this awesome post from Scott Westerfeld’s blog about the origins of the character names in Uglies.
Offred, from The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
This listing is similar to the one for The Road. Offred is not a great name. It does not signify great things. In fact, it shows all to well the objectification of women in the novel, the way that most of them are stripped of their identities (and thus their humanity). Unlike some of the other handmaids’ names (I’m thinking of Ofwarren and Ofglen), Offred fits together really well, and has a creepily soothing tone to it. It is not harsh or difficult to say. It seems to signify that whoever is Offred (because whoever comes after the protagonist will be Offred, too) is perfectly suited to the part. We know that this is not true. Not all of the Offreds fit the role society has left for them. For me, Offred reminds me of issues with traditional naming conventions (like the fact that Mrs., traditionally, stands for “wife of” and is traditional only used with the male’s name, diminishing the woman’s place and identity).
Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
This name is last because it’s my favorite name on the list. At first, before I had read The Hunger Games, I will admit that I did not quite “get it.” What kind of name is Katniss? Oh, it’s a flower? How cute. But then there is that scene when Katniss talks about going out hunting with her father, and he tells her that if she can find herself, she’ll succeed/never go hungry/always be awesome. I don’t remember the exact phrasing. But being true to yourself is a key theme of the novels, especially for Katniss and her ability to win the Games. Although I’m sure Katniss is about to become one of those trendy names (I feel like I’ve even read something about the name becoming more popular for babies), I think it’s a great character name that connects well to one of the overarching themes of the book.