Therese busting in to officially welcome Carleen Brice to Writer Unboxed. This is her first post with us as a regular monthly contributor. We’re so glad to have you, Carleen!
As you almost certainly know by now, Beyoncé and Jay Z recently welcomed a new baby into the world. They named her Blue Ivy Carter. Twitter blew up (blue up?) with people ridiculing the name and people defending it. For the record, I like it. Also for the record, I know it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not. She’s not my child.
But it got me to thinking there are times when it does matter whether or not I like a name, and that’s when it’s a character in a book I’m reading. I wish writers were more careful about using offbeat names in novels. New writers especially tend to exhaust their imaginations on characters’ names. But they’re not alone. I’ve read more than a few published novels in which wacky character names put me off. One that comes to mind is Where the Heart Is. Novalee Nation and Sister Husband were a bit much but still manageable, but the kids named after sweets? I couldn’t go there. I know it was comic, but I found it a little too ain’t-those-country-folk-charming. Worse, it took me out of the story and made me aware of the writing.
It was too much kooky for me and I love me some kooky (for example I very much enjoyed a girl named Davie Jones). In fact, I now must confess that my work in progress has two characters with offbeat names. But I believe they are balanced by characters with more common names.
Ah, the key to so much of life. Balance, people, balance. Not everybody in the story needs to have an unusual, remarkable name. If you’re telling a story about a world in which the customs are such that everyone does indeed have an odd duck name (such as a small Oklahoma town, as Letts was…maybe I need to rethink my feelings about Brownie and Praline?) then okay. But if that doesn’t apply to your story, why is everyone named after a planet? Sure, go ahead and call your main character Saturn, but can her best friend be Jane and can her husband be Mike? And can there be a good reason her name is Saturn?
We want our characters to be memorable. But we’re better off spending our time working on developing characters’ beliefs, habits, traits and actions that will make readers remember them. If Atticus Finch wasn’t the definition of a stand-up guy, I doubt anyone would remember him even though he has one of the best names in literature.
But that’s only my 2 cents. I’m curious: What do you think about quirky character names? Love them or hate them? How do you choose your characters’ names?
And if you want to read a great book about a character named Blue, read Some Things I’d Never Thought I’d Do by Pearl Cleage. Please note that Blue is the love interest of Regina. See? Balance.