The Name Game

I’m working on a new project, another proposed series, and decided I should make a list of all the characters so far. When I finished, I noticed a similarity: David, Dane, Dalton, Dillon, Deegan, Duncan and Dinah. Too much?

In real life, we run across people with the same or similar names all the time, but usually in fiction that’s frowned on. I guess when you know people and can picture them in your mind, it’s okay if some of them share the same name. We’ve got two Jackie K’s in our writers’ group, and they’re as distinct personalities as possible. I’ve got two cousins with same first/middle/last names, two more born close together with same first names. My best friend from 4th to 12th grade was Marilyn Haynes. People could tell us apart.

Sometimes you can’t avoid the similarities in fiction. You write a throwaway character who’s just supposed to play a minor part, and he turns out to be way too interesting for that, or the readers clamor for his story, and you’re stuck with the name you’ve given him, even if that means your series now has a Mike and a Mick, or a Tom and a Tim (or worse, a Timmy and a Tammy).

Sometimes even that excuse isn’t enough to ease the readers’ headaches when they try to sort through Michael, Mike, Micah, Mark, Mick, Matt, Maddy . . . I started a book once but quit when we got to the 12th (!!) character whose name began with an A. By that time, I couldn’t keep straight who was who or what or why. And I won’t even mention the fact that I couldn’t pronounce at least nine of them.

Do you have trouble keeping track of similar names, or am I the only name-challenged one around?



7 thoughts on “The Name Game

    • I’m reading the Wheel of Time series now, and there are SO MANY characters that I don’t even try to remember who more than the major twenty-five or so are.

      In this project, I did change David’s name, but I keep forgetting what I changed it to. Will have to do a search-and-replace to make sure I get it all right.

    • LOL. I knew an aspiring writer years ago who routinely gave her hero and heroine rhyming names. To her, it was cute. To me, it was insane-making.

      I also don’t like heroines’ names that are cutesy-pie when put together with heroes’ last names, like Rain Storm or Candy Barr.

      • Oh, but did you ever see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? They were ( think) Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frankincense, and Gideon. I haven’t watched the movie in years, but I always liked the names. I think Adam’s daughter at the end was named Hannah, to continue the tradition.

  1. Marilyn,

    I really do have issues with books where many of the character’s names start with the same letter. I realized that when I read a science fiction book with strange and wondrous naming conventions, I just shorten the character’s names to the first letter and when I read them, I see the name and skip it, just thinking the first letter in my head. When there are lots, it makes my brain jump.

    Lois McMasters Bujold did a series where the warrior/ruling class on a planet all had “Vor” at the beginning of their names to indicate they were in this class. I found that I ‘skipped’ that in my head and kept track of what I thought of as the ‘family’ names.

    If you’ve got too many names that begin with the same letter, I’m one of the readers that will be bothered by it. I might not tell you, but I will be bothered. Now, that said, I understand when twins have names that are similar, etc. Some families use the same initials for all the kids, so I get that. If a family has a ‘thing’ for naming then I totally accept it as part of the narrative. spw

    • I have trouble with quite a few science fiction/fantasy series, as far as the names. Either I can’t pronounce them or there’s a lot of similarity. In the Dragonriders of Pern books, the dragon riders had (relatively) normal names before they became dragonriders, but then their names were shortened to first letter/last syllable, if I remember correctly. Then, every time I saw one, I’d stop to wonder if the first letter was pronounced as a letter or if you just used the sound, like “tee” versus “tuh.” Then I started hoping for one to be named F’lan or F’lour or K’norr.

      I saw a woman in an interview talking about her family. She was the youngest of seven siblings (making up the names here, but you’ll get the idea): David, Daniel, Derek, Diane, Debbie and Donald — and she was Kathy. What? They didn’t want a Dinah or Dorcas or Dana?

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