Whichever side of the writing process you're on, this much you're sure of:
- naming characters is a delight akin to naming children
- naming characters is a pain akin to delivering children.
And as with most things trope-ish, it is (almost) inevitable that another famed author has already claimed your superduper unique name as their own in that one fantastically popular series you've been avoiding for ages (which you'll only discover once the book is out in print). Likewise, as with most things trope-ish, whichever name you do end up settling on - you're likely following a trend. And isn't that ever so annoying?
So to make it still more annoying, this week we're linking up with The Broke And The Bookish's Top 10 feature and listing our 10 favorite and least favorite memorable naming strategies in YA.
1. Fantastical contemporary names
... Literally. Behold Ywyenne, the daughter of NYC stock brokers whose passions include baking, tailgating, and teenage angst - in a YA Contemporary romance that's sweeping the nation! (A/N: Not a real story. But you know it's just a matter of time.) Set up well, this trend can be utilized to better paint the picture of a artsy society/hippie commune where the character was raised. Set up badly, it's the first warning bell of the great, the dreaded... SPESHUL SNOWFLAKE SYNDROME.
Done right in: every Jandy Nelson book to date (hippie communities galore) - Lenon being the prime example
Failed us in: Pushing The Limits. Whatever the plot and the characterization, hearing the name Echo repeated about a hundred times in the midst of classes, Family Drama, the Deep, Dark Past and contemporary romance was all sorts of distracting.
2. Keyboard smash strategies
At this point in time, with pop culture spreading like wildfire online, this character-naming strategy might well be alternatively titled The G.R.R. Martin Strategy. In practice, it's about equally divided between really technical, really futuristic sci-fi and epic fantasy. And it is, we believe, a direct result of an author growing frustrated with their inability to pick a name and smashing their head on a keyboard. DAENERYS TARGERYEN! PERFECT!
The strategy is also marked by an author's sadistic enjoyment of subsequent embarrassing attempts, tongue injuries, and a risk of asphyxiation that accompanies every attempt to pronounce said name.
As seen in: many a Sarah J. Maas title (Ianthe, Chaol, Aelin Ashryver Galathynius), every G.R.R. Martin Title (as seen above), Uprooted (Agnieszka), and on Cait's entire Top 10 feature over @ Paper Fury
3. Overused names
Name trends come and name trends go - in fiction as in real life. You can spot this trend when after 10 minutes of fawning over a character with a friend, you discover that you've been thinking of different Lukes all along. #awkward Or, alternatively, it's evident when every time you mention a certain character's name, it's followed up with a "Which one?" question from someone else.
As experienced with:
4. His royal titles
In fantasy, title-names are par for the course. It's stranger when a titular character isn't royalty than when they are. (And the more you think about this, the harder it is to think of average-Joe protagonists in fantasy. Even Aragorn had a claim to Gondor from the outset.) Brought over to present-day set books, however, this becomes one of my absolute favorite trends - one that glories in its utter ridiculousness. Pretentiously-named teenage boys and girls in modern-day western world are more than a little bit amazing - and even more amusing.
As seen in: (you saw this coming) Richard Campbell Gansey III from The Raven Cycle
5. Unknown names
And then there are those times when a character just... doesn't have a name. At least, that is, not one we're aware of right away. This trend can be employed threefold:
- on Those Who Must Not Be Named (TOM RIDDLE! I SAID IT!)
- on characters whose names are Top Secret™ (Dorian's father, apparently, in Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass)
- on characters whose names are unpronouncable ('Your human tongue isn't capable of producing the sound, so I go by Joe,' as seen in multiple Discworld novels)
6. That's Not A Name names
This is easily the most common trend in the whole of YA literature. Because unique name = unique character. (Except not really. Not at all.) An author could risk just going with a rare name, but the problem is - so is everyone else. So, instead, why not convert a noun of choice into a name, instead? At times it's done on purpose, to illustrate that sort of mindset in a parent (Blue in The Raven Cycle) and most other times it's unfortunately misused... and unfortunately hilarious.
Also seen in: Patch (Hush Hush), Mare (Red Queen), Cricket (Lola And The Boy Next Door), Poppy, Wink, Alabama, Leaf, Midnight (Wink Poppy Midnight), Rhage, Zadist, Wrath, Tohrment, Vishous, Phury - no, I'm not kidding (The Black Dagger Brotherhood), America Singer (The Selection)
7. That's Not Even A Word names
Similar to the previous category, but amped up to a whooooole new level - these are names that not only mean: an herb, a time of day, a part of a whole, anger management problems - but, in fact, don't mean anything at all. Unlike the keyboard smash names, these show up in either contemporary or present-day paranormal stories and they are 100% fantastic to behold. They're usually a result of an author's attempt to put an original spin on existing sounds/words/names. And they absolutely never, ever fail to amuse.
Example (one is all you need): Renesmee (Twilight)
8. Hidden Meaning Spoiler names
You know the drill - the beautiful protagonist named Isabelle (Belle for short) comes across an amnesiac named Nemo. Soon thereafter they're joined by Sidekick McComicReliefson and off to an adventure they go!
It's open to interpretation whether names with obvious meanings (which coincidentally correspond with the character's defining trait) are the way to go or not. Memorably, most of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter cast has highly illustrative names (Lupin, Sirius, professor Vektor, professor Sprout), and it's been a source of actual delight to generations of kids who took these names at face value when first introduced to the characters, only to realize the name significance years after the fact. Likewise, In The Land of Broken Time features characters with names highly illustrative of the book's core themes.
But in YA (and upwards), at times a name isn't so much a herald as it is a spoiler. So this trend, too, is a double-edged sword. Our take? Cleverly-hidden meanings add an additional nuance to the book as a whole. Poorly-disguised spoilers don't.
9. Author? Character? Hard to tell!
It's hard to decide if it's alarming or ballsy to open a book and find that the protagonist shares (a variation of) the author's name. Is it a poorly-disguised self-insert in an author's fictional wish-fulfillment fantasy? Is it an author winking right at you from the page, all brazen and haughty? Is it even inentional? Unless a book is a masterpiece of subtext, we may never know. And that right there is half the appeal.
As seen in:
Cassandra Clare's Clairy, the similarly red-haired protagonist of The Mortal Instruments
Victoria Schwab's Victor, the similarly morally dubious, ridiculously impressive Slytherin protagonist of Vicious
10. Nonsensical/amusing nicknames
Maggie Stiefvater, needless to say, is a particular fan of this strategy - whether purposely or otherwise. (Though, does God ever do anything by accident? #notatallbiased). You haven't even finished deciding whether to be put out or impressed that the author named their protagonist John Smith, when suddenly he's spotted by his friends, and they're calling his name from across the street. "Hey, Bug! Yo, Bug, good to see you, man!"
It's a ridiculous nickname, of course. And you'll never admit the author got a laugh out of you for that one. The secret's safe with us.
Examples: The previously mentioned Richard Campbell Gansey III from The Raven Cycle winces at the customary 'Dick'. He then goes on to nickname the previously mentioned Blue - 'Jane'. Kate Connolly in The Scorpio Races goes by 'Puck'. Walk The Edge sees a motorcycle gang give all its relatively normally named members supposedly threatening-sounding nicknames, thus leaving us with the broody love interest who answers only to 'Razor'.
Oops - we might have accidentally made the whole character-naming process seem even more daunting. Darn our propensity to laugh at everything! To whom it may concern, however - a good portion of these trends are ones we genuinely like. And a good portion of those are ones we frequently follow. Do we then second-guess the name choices? Absolutely. But do we stick by them in the end? Also a resounding yes.
Which are the naming trends you've noticed in YA? What are your favorite and least favorite ones? Do you have 'name crushes' - so much so that you have to use a name in your own story? And have there been names in books which you found too ridiculous to even process? Let us know in the comments below.
TOP 10 FICTIONAL CHARACTER NAME TRENDS
4/ 5Oleh The Honest Bookclub