Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A strange pattern with names

A character with a
great original name:
Baby names often follow popular trends. When I was a kid, Lisa and Michelle were enormously popular names. About 10 years ago, everywhere I turned there were little girls named McKenzie or Madison and right now Emma is popular.

What's funny is how the same names crop up in recent books too... at least in the young adult titles. I've run into characters with the same names, but enormously different personalities. The different personalities and situations make it easy to adjust to a new character with the same name, but it still amuses me.

This has mostly happened with protagonists (the good guys). I imagine it would be more disconcerting to see a new hero show up with the same name as the antagonist in the previous book!

And you know how we develop negative associations with names? I wanted to name one of my daughters Noelle, but my husband said no because he knew a girl by that name. I have a few names like that too, but haven't run into them in any novels yet. I wonder if it would matter if a protagonist had one of my "do not like" names.

Here's a sampling of common names in recent YA novels:

Anna - The Rules of Disappearing (2013) by Ashley Elston
Anna - Altered (2013) by Jennifer Rush

Trev - Altered (2013) by Jennifer Rush
Trevor - Pivot Point (2013) by Kasie West

Addie - Pivot Point (2013) by Kasie West
Addie - What's Left of Me (2012) by Kat Zhang

Eva - What's Left of Me (2012) by Kat Zhang
Eva - The Lost Girl (2012) by Sangu Mandanna

Seraphina - Seraphina (2012) by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina - The Alchemy of Forever (2012) by Avery Williams

Kai - Cinder (2012) by Marissa Meyer
Kai - For Darkness Shows the Stars (2012), by Diana Peterfreund
Ky - Matched series (2010-2012) by Ally Condie

Zenn - Zenn Scarlett, by Christian Schoon (2013)
Zenn - Possession series, by Elana Johnson (2011-2013)

Scarlet - Scarlet  (2012) by A.C. Gaughen
Scarlet - Scarlet (2013) by Marissa Meyer

Cole - Everneath (2012) by Brodi Ashton
Cole - Linger, Forever (2010, 2011) by Maggie Stiefvator

Lola - Lola and the Boy Next Door (2012) by Stephanie Perkins
Lola - The Secret Ingredient (2013) by Stewart Lewis

And kind of similar:

Olivia - The Secret Ingredient (2013) by Steward Lewis
Oliver - the Art of Wishing (2013) - Lindsay Ribar

Katie - Ink (2013) by
Kate - Die For Me (2011) by Amy Plum

June - The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson
June - Legend (2011) by Marie Lu

Lala - Burning (2013) by Elana K Arnold
Leela - The Binding Stone (2013) by Lisa Gail Green

Liesel - The Book Thief (2006) by Marcus Zusak
Liesl - Liesl and Po (2011)  by Lauren Olivier

Now personally, I like names that aren't very common, and especially names that suggest something other than white American teenagers... not that I have anything against white American teenagers (I was one myself, a long time ago). But the hint of another culture is intriguing, to me. Here's some of my recent favorites:

Karou - Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
Yukiko - Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff
Theo - Never Gone, by Laurel Garver
Ismae - Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers
Margo - The Art of Wishing, by Lindsay Ribar (personal bias!)
Elliot - For Darkness Shows the Stars (a girl, her name is a play on Jane Austen's Ann Elliot)
Harry - The Blue Sword (a girl!) by Robin McKinley
Savvy - A Spy Like Me  by Laura Pauling (I just love this name!)

Do fictional names matter to you, or does the character always trump the name?


  1. I think character trumps name, but a name can enhance character and make you think, "Oh, she's DEFINITELY a Katie!" And I do think some names fit characters better than others. I'm with you on the love for Ismae and Karou!

    1. I just love those names, Ismae and Karou. Great examples of unusual names that still have a sort of familiar ring to them.

  2. I realized a couple years back that I had a character named Kate ... or Katy ... or Cadi ... or Katherine ... in almost every story I wrote, whether she was the protagonist or not. I had to change most of them! I still love the name, but I'm a lot more judicious in my use of it now.

    Naming characters, and reading other characters' names, is one of my great joys. I keep trying to talk my sister into using certain baby names just because I love the fictional character so much!

    1. I named my daughter after one of my favorite fictional characters! So I love that you try to talk your sister into it too!

      I went through a stage where all my characters had names starting with "S" and didn't realize it. Thank goodness my CP pointed it out to me!

  3. I'm not one for the creative names. It's bothersome when I read a book then forget character names because they're unusual. (Peeta from THE HUNGER GAMES was one I struggled with for a long time.)

    1. I still struggle with Peeta! Really its not so different from Peter, but still...

    2. It can't just be me who hears that name and thinks of the group that regularly protests fur shops and science labs.

      Alternately, I think of Mediterranean flatbread.

      Either does not say "heartthob" to me. LOL.

  4. I sometimes feel that Kate and Anna are overused. I like new names, but ones that don't look like a bunch of letters just thrown together. And if the character is well done I don't care what their name is, I'll end up loving it by the end even if it is a name I used to dislike.

    I love naming characters. I like to think up new and different ones that are still pronouceable. Though usually my characters rename themselves. (This has happened in my newest planned series.)

    1. Yes if you make up a name, it has to be easily pronounceable and easy on the tongue, if that makes any sense. One of my CP's once said my character's name out loud, and I realized I had to change it. I had never actually said the name out loud! But I do love to think up new names, too, like you.

  5. Character trumps names for me but I have a very soft spot for Charles Dickens' most unique character names (unsurpassed to this very day in my humble opinion!! LOL!) Take care

    1. And I am so woefully under-educated with Dickens. All I know is Scrooge. Which is unsurpassed, most definitely.

  6. Noelle is the name of my main character in PPP! :) That's so interesting that character names are also cyclic. I guess that's what comes from authors using baby name resources to name the people in their books!

    1. Yay for Noelle! I was planning to use it for one of my characters someday too, since I couldn't use for my daughter.

  7. Names are super-important in fiction! I do like Seraphina. I also like Scarlet, and almost named the lead in Ruby's Fire, my new YA sci-fi, Scarlet. I'm so glad I didn't because she would have gotten lost in a sea of Scarlets. Ruby seems pretty unique for now, which I like. And she's somehow warmer than Scarlet, which sounds terrifically regal. Plus she gets to wear some cool red jewelry on the cover.

    1. Speaking of Ruby, and I think Garnet would be a cool name, too. You are right, Ruby sounds warmer than Scarlet. Or Garnet. :)

  8. How awesome that you liked my love interest's name. :-) For me, naming characters is an often complex process. I do use the Social Security website to research what's popular and try to pick names that are in-ish for the birth years of my contemporary characters...that is, in the top 150, but not the top 20. In Theo's case, it was the meaning of the name that trumped all, but also it had a similar feel to the more popular Leo, so I figured it could fly even if it was down in the 300s in popularity in the mid-1990s.

    One of my parent characters I gave a very out-of-generation name (no one but great-grandma was named Grace in the 1960s) mostly to say something about her family of origin and their feelings about her entrance into the world.

    I dislike the trend of super wacky names for contemporary characters, because I know from personal experience having an odd name tends to not make you cool but a target for bullying. And it's become a kind of tired cliche as well. With fantasy and sci fi, names based on other languages are the coolest, especially if it's fairly clear how to pronounce them, like Alia in the Dune series (an Arabic name), for example.

    1. Yes I agree about wacky names, I really struggled with a boy named Cricket in Lola and the Boy Next Door. I never knew Alia was Arabic. I devoured the Dune series as a teenager. For me, naming my characters is often a process of them naming themselves - as I get to know them, eventually a name just comes.

  9. Thank you so much for mentioning Savvy! I changed her name at the very last minute. I loved that she's an accidental spy and the opposite of the meaning of the word Savvy. Plus, Savannah would be the full name but that's never mentioned!

    It is funny how names trends in books according to baby names. I've seen a lot of Vi in books, short for Violet. :)



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