[Think Aloud] – #3 – The Standards of Unique Character Names

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Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.

Table Topic:
The Standards of
Unique Character Names

Abstract:

John Doe B is incomparable to John Doe A.

 Thoughts:

Ever come across a character that shares a common name but is more-or-less different than their twinsie in attributes? Is it even possible to read with an open mind because of these factors? The short answer ought to be yes but how true is it in action?

Let’s take a step back for a moment:

So you’re reading this book about characters named Harry, Hermione, and Ronald, and you find yourself enjoying the exposition and the narrative and basically everything about it. (What is a Hermione anyways?) And then you’re crying while being filled with joy and then you realise you’re feeling the full range of feels seven thousand times over again as the characters grow up and evolve, and you know that all things must come to an end… (man, what a mouthful)

…but then a few months down the road, you pick up a different book and you seem to come across another Harry, or Hermione, or a Ronald. Now…do you feel a burdensome apprehension because you’re reminded of the previous character(s) or are you able to buy into the novel without reservation? Assuming these new characters (or clones if you will) exist in their own unique story and world, what are the chances of you drawing comparisons for the Harry and the Ronald in particular? How about Hermione?

Despite the possibility of being reminded of past Harry’s and Ronald’s, it’s the unique names that will most often catch your eye and solidify themselves as the one and only—almost as if these namesakes are legalized, copyrighted, and patent-pended as irreplaceable characters to their creators. Of course, this is under the assumption that the “original characters” have been fully explored and fleshed out in a way where they grow into this absolute position. It’s names like Hermione, like Katniss and Peeta, like Huck (Huckleberry), Thorin– that truly beg the question of whether or not there can be characters of the same name who can live up to (or surpass) their predecessors.

But should these new twins-in-name-only have to be either?

Or do we have the obligation as readers to read into each and every new book as if it’s the first one we have ever read; going into the text as blank slate if you will?

I obviously don’t have the answer to either (or anything for that matter) but you tell me—


Afterthought Prompts:

1) What are the chances that you’ll start drawing comparisons based on names alone? Have you ever done it before for the regular or generic names? Or is it just a unique name predicament?

2) How do you discern what becomes unique? Do you have names that you’ve basically written off as “unique” and a name that cannot be easily out-done or replaced (for now at least)?

3) From a character standpoint only, and assuming they share the same name: what do you think about the possibility of going into new reads with an open mind without the thought of previous characters influencing how you feel about these new characters? Can it be done or is it just in human nature to categorize and create immediate judgments?

My mind is so weird. And I don’t even think I made my point that well but here you go…another questionably ranty rant!

Think aloud.

Cheers,
Joey

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14 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #3 – The Standards of Unique Character Names”

  1. Well if I came across another Hermione in a book I honestly think I would be appalled. Obviously that name is attached to a phenomenal series and that character is practically a real person to a lot of us book nerds, so I would probably be taken a back and dislike the character from the start. I don’t think I would be able to separate the Hermione from Harry Potter and the Hermione from this new book… it would be really hard and most likely impossible for me.
    I think names like Harry or Ronald would be a little easier to disassociate them from the character. They are more generic names that you come across more often, so as long as they weren’t in a different series about magic and wizards or named Harry Lotter, I think I could handle it.
    Interesting thought though 🙂

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    1. (Well at least Hermione was a solid example to elicit this kind of reaction–validation!)

      Great to hear that us normal folk with normal names are easily cloned into new characters and we’d be duke-ing it out to win the hearts of the reader.

      That would be quite the unfortunate tale if Harry Lotter was formed but then again, with spoof movies like The Starving Games and Kantmiss Evershot, I feel like I’d be dying from either poor acting or terrible writing/production to not associate the good/bad traits of Katniss with this new proxy.

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  2. For me. I think fantasy names are a little easier to discern because authors tend to come up with such interesting twists on them. That said, I do sometimes compare similar characters, especially when they are written by the same author but for a different world. I remember reading my first David Eddings series (The Belgariad) and loving the character quirks for a number of them, but when I started a new series from the same author, one that was in a completely different world, I found that the same characters from The Belgariad existed in this other series. Only they were watered down copies and much less likeable, which became a problem for me.

    That said, I don’t really have a problem discerning the uniqueness of characters with similar names if they are written by different authors, and written differently. At this point, I’ve practically run across several Mel (Melissandre, Mellissande), Kat (Katsa, Katniss), Sam (Samuel, Samantha, Samael, Samwell, Samwise), and Bran (Branden, Brandon) derivations that I seem to manage to discern them just fine (honestly, Bran from A Song of Ice and Fire and Bran from the Mercy Thompson universe are definitely two different characters for me). Some of them I do compare not so much by name, but by character trait, like Samwise (The Lord of the Rings) and Samwell (A Song of Ice and Fire), where they’re both the underestimated, loyal sidekick companion to the more heroic-seeming characters.

    As for the extremely “unique” names (because I haven’t fully explored whether or not the name has truly stemmed from the author), it probably would be a problem if someone else tried to name their main character Katniss Everdeen or Legolas Greenleaf (I have reservations on the name Hermione, because it feels like a name I’ve come across reading mythologies, like the names Morrigan and Niamh).

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    1. Ah, yes, I understand the indiscernible feeling when characters from two different worlds are written nearly the same because it’s from one author. It definitely makes me wonder if it’s part of the intent or if writers are creatively set in their ways (not that I’m judging them for either!)

      (Also, the thought that Samwise = Samwell is pretty uncanny–that completely skimmed my mind!)

      Do you tend to shorten the names for characters with longer names? Or was that just part of your example? That gives me the thought that maybe it is truly in the “uniqueness” (loosely defined) of how names are spelled that either make us read the name fully to retain it’s substance of unique/quirkiness, or if we do shorten it, it’s still a unique “short form” for a name where we can still distinguish it and say “yes, that’s still different.”

      In my view, it’s doubtful that an author(s) would full on copy the first and last name…but I’d be really surprised if that happened–and I can imagine it being an issue!

      A lot of great thoughts here, thanks!

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      1. I think I shorten the names depending on whether or not the author shortens them in the books. I know the Sam and Bran examples were often shortened nicknames in the books they came from (or the name actually was Bran), so I sometimes refer to them as their short or long names. The other names were just examples for me, but now that I think of it…I do find some similarity between Katsa and Katniss as well (though they are easily discernible for me)…

        This topic does bring up some food for thought! 🙂

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        1. Ah–that’s a fair way of doing things!

          I’ll probably even add to the pot that I sometimes get to a point where I don’t even realise their full name and just recognize them by the first letter LOL (and I’m not even speed reading at this point).

          I’m only trying to shed some light on what’s going on in my mind (of which nothing really makes much sense) so I’m happy that I could pick at your brain for a bit!

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  3. You know, I never have really stopped and thought about this.

    I do think there is a difference between epic sci-fi or fantasy stories vs pretty much every other genre. Speculative fiction invites this overwhelming need to create these epic and unique names for their characters (especially in high fantasy).
    (As an aside, I think the uniqueness of J.K.Rowling’s names comes from the pure commonality of them–she took such common names and gave them a memorable face! [and yes, Hermione is actually quite a popular English name, found a few times in literature and a lot more just in the general population]).
    And I think that if I saw those clearly unique and original names repeated in that genre again, I wouldn’t read the book on principle.

    But then, that kind of makes me a hypocrite. Because how many times are names like Juliet and Charlie and Emma and Charlotte and Levi used over and over for different characters and they are still different. Heck, I could pick up a book tomorrow and the main character be named Atticus Lynch and I don’t think that would bother me that much. But if I picked up the newest contemporary thriller “The secret lives of Katniss Jay” I think it may annoy me.

    All of this rambling to say, I have no idea why some names are okay to repeat and some names aren’t. I guess some characters are just superheroes, like their names can’t be touched. And some names, even if they belong to a beloved character of mine, can be used again and I may love that new character completely differently.

    Yeah, I don’t know. lol 😉

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    1. Just to play devil’s advocate a bit: perhaps it is very superficial of me to say that in some cases (like Hermione), it could possibly be unique and untouchable because it’s only well known to “readers” with an untrained eye (of not reading into ‘more English’ novels–so your avid film [only] goers). And so it becomes a faux-pas to have the next big blockbuster trilogy/series to also have a character named Hermione (because media has already crowned Watson as such?)

      But then being more a well-read individual comes more chance of having seen these names we call “unique” so then it’s not as shocking or shameful because we’ve seen that Charlotte 10 times or that Charlie 6 times–all different, and all very real because we’ve witnessed different varying successes that have liquidated the name to the extent that it’s not about being a “trump name” anymore than to just being a character that could stand on his head and stay memorable! — I just spam typed, I don’t even know if this makes sense and I’m too lazy to edit LOLSORRY.

      But of course you are right: those iconic Batman’s and Superman’s that have grown into their fan-base and become a household name… but then so has Katniss and Hermione (pretty sure I’ve seen a HP Hermione action figure on sale–so that’s gotta count for something).

      So it’s again one of those perspective things–never a right or wrong approach–just plenty of food for thought!

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  4. Interesting thought. I can’t say that I’ve encountered any character name situations that made me think of previous characters I have read. I do spend a lot of time considering character names, including origin and meaning. And, I get upset when I read a book and think to myself – I wanted to use that as a character name and now I can’t.

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    1. If you haven’t come across a name that you’ve read into (speaking “uniquely” at least) then why do you feel turned off to the idea that you couldn’t use a character name once it’s “done”. I mean, if you haven’t discovered a certain name, then who’s to say a majority of others would find the name that you came across? Is it in the feeling of authenticity and originality, or is it something else? Just a thought haha.

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