What’s in a Name?


Do you like a strong hero name?  A sexy heroine name?  Do names affect you when reading a book?  Do you connect some names with bad memories, and therefore can never read a book with that person’s name as the protagonist? 

For me, some names never grow up to be manly, such as Kevin, or are old lady names right from the start, like Gertrude.  Do you see yourself as going moony-eyed over a strapping hero named Jethro? Is it all subjective?

How many of us actually know anyone named Hunter, Chance, or Rafe?

I recently saw a rerun of a Seinfeld episode where Elaine dated a guy with the name of a serial killer.  I think it was Joel Rifkin, or as the papers called him, Rifkin the Ripper.  She liked the guy.  And she liked his name, well, his first name anyway. One night when out on a date at a basketball game or something, they announced his name over the loud speaker.  Maybe he won a prize.  Okay, so I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention, but that scene drove the point home about his name. Everyone gasped and went quiet.  Elaine got embarrassed and after that, suggested he change his name.

Joel and Elaine agreed to make a list of their favorite names, and here is where it got interesting for me.  They had a little meeting and went down their lists. I can’t remember all of them, but Joel’s list included names like Todd and Stuart.  Elaine responded with Todd?  Todd?  Then she teased him about “Little Stuart Rifkin” as their meeting of the minds spiraled downhill. Elaine’s list went for the sports figure types – Deon and Remy.  You can imagine how a guy named Joel with aspirations to be called Todd reacted to her list.  If memory serves me correctly, as often was the case with Elaine and her men, they broke up.

For another chance to win a book, this time a book of your choice between contemporary romance, historical romance, and romantic suspense, sound off on what you think of character names in romances.  Do they make a difference to you?  Can a bad name ruin a book?  I’ll draw one commenter’s name for the prize.

Folks, if you’ve been enjoying these little weekly blogs of mine, I’d like to ask a favor – TELL A FRIENDA Hero by ANY nameAnd for your viewing pleasure – here’s a man with a very interesting name, whom I’d cast in a hero role in a snap!

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16 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Nas says:

    “What’s in a name?” by Shakepeare. LOL!

    But I absolutely agree. Imagine a hero named Casper! Draican, or Frenkenstein!
    Will we love these heros?

  2. Nas says:

    Oh, look at my Shakespear’s spelling!

  3. Virginia C says:

    Characters don’t always have to bear unique names. Sometimes exotic names are just too much! If I am not sure how to pronounce a name, especially if it makes me stumble each time I come across it, then that takes away from the enjoyment of the story line. For heroes, I like Samuel (Sam), Joseph (Joe), Ian, Sean, Liam, Elijah (Lije), Jake, Max, Webber (Webb), Jack, Devlin (Dev), William (Will), Mac, Gordon, Ezekial (Zeke), and Callen (Cal).

    It would be a great service to readers if the proper way to pronounce the unusual names of people, places and things was explained somewhere at the beginning of the book. I used to see pages like this years ago, but not so much in today’s publishing world. This info could even be included in the “Dear Reader” page : )

  4. Hi Virginia,
    Oh, I totally agree, it would be nice to know how to pronounce the exotic names. And I’m with you, good old standard and traditional guy names work best for me. The only one I’d take issue with is Cal – once had a horrible neighbor named Cal. I’d rather deck that hero than read about him. ha ha.

  5. I changed a secondary character’s name from Angel to Madalena – and then changed it again to Magdalena, as I couldn’t see my almost-six-foot, Spanish-curvy gal as a Maddie. I CAN see her as a Maggie, though…

    Men, I have to agree. I changed my hero from Rafe to Gabriel. I’ve also got a Justin and a Gregor and a Kellan…their women are Rose, the aforementioned Maggie, and I’m not sure about Kellan’s love interest – she’s not yet shown up.

    Great post – names are VERY important for our characters!

  6. Hi Christine!

    I like your thought process for naming you Amazon female character. I think Maggie fits. I also like all of your other character names. What’s not to like about a Gabe?

    Thanks for commenting.


  7. JV says:

    Names are, indeed, very subjective. For example, I’ve always really liked the name Jennifer, but when it came time to name my daughter, I couldn’t name her that because of a young lady from my office named Jennifer, a very nice person whom I liked a lot but who could NOT stop talking no matter what. Every time I’d picture naming my daughter that, I pictured non-stop talking and couldn’t do it. However, I have no problem with heroines named Jennifer.

    On the other hand, some names evoke such strong feelings, either because of past experiences with someone with that name or just due to personal aesthetics, that I have a very hard time when characters in stories have those names. My apologies to anyone named Gertrude because I know this doesn’t apply to everyone with the name, but for me the name brings to mind an old woman with a big mouth, a perpetual frown, and a few hairs sprouting at the chin. Why? Because the only person I’ve ever known (personally) named Gertrude was like that. Similarly, Bruce does not bring up the image of a strong, handsome hero to me because of past associations with a Bruce growing up.

    Another thing about names is that they tend to go through cycles, so different generations see the names differently. Probably due to Debbie Reynolds’ popularity, a lot of girls my age were named Debbie (or Deborah). We had Sherrys and Elizabeths and Cheryls and Patricias and Kathleens and Sarahs but hardly any Olivias or Hannahs or Caitlins or Isabelles. So the younger generation probably sees the names of my era as old woman names, just as I saw the names from my mother’s generation or older as old woman names. Many of them have made a comeback in recent years, though.

    Some names switch gender over generations or cross gender lines. I know young women named Parker, Morgan, and Clark, but when I was a kid, those would have been considered only boys’ names. I’ve noticed several boys’ names from my generation that have crossed the gender lines. One that totally switched genders is Ashley. To me, Ashley is a girl, but in Gone with the Wind, Ashley was a man. Sometimes, these changes take some getting used to, and some I will probably never get used to.

    In general, I tend to like the classic names. I especially like Rob, David, Tom, Sam, Rick, Matthew, Will, Luke, Jake, Justin, Lee, and many others. I read somewhere recently that the most popular men’s names end in “n”, which is kind of interesting. I can’t pick out a favorite heroine name, but I like many of them. What I tend not to like as much are names that sound like someone is trying too hard to come up with a unique or rugged name. For example, on a soap opera that shall go unnamed, the guys have names like Ridge and Thorn and Storm. Why not Hedge and Porch and Truck? Those kinds of names just don’t do it for me as names. They might not be so bad as nicknames given for a particular reason.

    As for historical romances, I appreciate the authenticity of using names from that area of the world and the time period in which the story was written. The only thing that bothers me is when I can’t figure out how to pronounce them. When I read a story, I sort of see it unfold like a movie, and I want to be able to hear the hero or heroine say the name in my head. So, for historicals with names that are unfamiliar now, I would appreciate a little index with pronunciations.

    Having said all that, there are a few names that I’ve grown to like because a particularly well-written story has changed the unpleasant association I had with a name and has given me a new and more pleasant one. So, a writer does have the power to make a name palatable because the character she creates is so appealing.

  8. JV says:

    Just remembered an episode from the old Bob Newhart Show. In it, he had gotten a temporary secretary from an agency to fill in for his secretary, who was out on medical leave or something. The temp was a little old, white-haired woman with old-lady shoes, and stooped shoulders, and her name was Debbie. He just couldn’t bring himself to call her Debbie because it seemed like a kid’s name to him, I suppose. It was a very funny episode.

  9. Hi JV!
    I think you should have written this blog! Wow, you are a wealth of information, and I agree with all of it. Too funny about Debbie, and I’m glad you didn’t name your daughter fast talking Jenny. : )
    I think John Wayne’s name was Marion? Or one of those names we’d connect with a lady these days. Carol is also a name once given to men.
    I so agree about trying too hard to give edgy, different names. I remember hearing one of the kids of Frank Zappa say he hated his name – Omit (though that seemed a heck of a lot better than Moon Unit and Dweezle) because the kids in school called him Omit vomit. So he changed his name to Rick, and got called Rick dick. LOL. Sometimes you just can’t win!
    I was supposed to be a Terry (another bigender name, right?) and often wonder how different my life would have been had my mother not had a friend who was pregnant at the same time and wanted to name her baby Terry.

    Always great to hear from you, JV!

  10. JV says:

    A friend of mine went to high school with a boy named Richard Breath. You can imagine what he got called. What were his parents thinking (or were they)?

  11. Oh, that’s too funny, JV. I guess living with a name like Candy Barr or Richard Breath forces a person to develop character. Or die! LOL

  12. EllenToo says:

    Maybe I’m a little strange but the only time the names of characters in a book bother me is when they are so strange that I don’t have a chance of pronouncing them right. I know I am just reading them silently and not out loud but I like to be able to pronounce them. Maybe this comes from teaching so many years that I got use to strange names that parents give their kids ~ and some were so strange the kids themselves changed their names when they got to high school.

  13. Hi Ellen!
    Yes, I agree with you about not being able to pronounce the character names. It drags on the books.
    See my comment above about Frank Zappa’s son – re: changing names in high school.

    Note to parents trying to be cool by giving their babies weird names – your not, and they won’t appreciate it. Kids just want to be like everyone else.

    Thanks for stopping by, Ellen. I hope you’ll visit from time to time.

  14. Nancy Holroyd says:

    Yes, on Hunter and on Rafe. I know several someone’s with those two names, but no on Chance. LOL. And there are some names that are a complete turn off. But what works for me might not work for someone else.

  15. Hi Nancy,
    So now I can say I cyber-know someone who knows a Hunter and a Rafe! Wow. 🙂

    And you’ve made a good point about names being subjective, but don’t you think some names sound like they belong on little kids?