What’s In A Name?

The names of characters in novels has been a topic of discussion among some writers recently, so I decided to give my $0.02 worth, and get yours.

For decades, ever since I started reading romance novels as a kid, the names of heroes and heroines, particularly in romance novels, has been a subject of some derision. Other genres were guilty to a certain extent, but not as pervasively as romance. Historical romances were the worst back then, but the new historicals I’ve read recently have seemed to have more appropriate names for the time period. These days, the odd names are running amuck in paranormal romances.

I’m not beyond guilt myself with the paranormal names. The hero in BLOOD DRAGON is named, Kiellen – not exactly an everyday name for an adult currently, at least to my knowledge, but I know of several children with that name. The heroine’s name is Jaden, which also isn’t exactly common, but not terribly unusual either.

As a vampire, Jaden changes her identity every few years to maintain her secret, and so she chose her name. Kiellen, with an incredibly long lifespan as a weredragon, also changes his identity, but he stubbornly clings to his given name. His father’s name was also Kiellen, and since his father died before he was born, he desperately holds on to that connection with his family.

When odd names are justified – a parent’s obsession, a family name passed down, a name given later in life for a characteristic – I can accept them more easily. I’ve personally known many parents who gave their children names that seemed absolutely insane. Using a word that the parent likes the sound of, regardless of it’s definition, is fairly common. Passing down a name from several generations ago is also fairly common.

I completely revised my opinion about names in historical romances, though, when I began researching my own family history. During the 18th and 19th centuries, I found the following names in my own family: Prudia, Lonia, Honor, Comfort, Obedience, and Zipporah (pronounced Zippry) were all females. Zandle, Carliss, Xeno, and Bater were males. Those are just the ones I can remember  off-hand, so there may have been others. With names like those in my family, I suddenly no longer felt qualified to judge character names too harshly. 🙂

I try not to give my characters terribly unusual names, partly because I want to avoid the stereotype of odd names in romance novels. But I can partly forgive the authors who do use out-of-the-ordinary names. Such names weren’t completely unheard of in the past, and they certainly aren’t uncommon now. If our characters are extra-ordinary, the impulse, maybe instinct, is to give them names as special as they are.

What do you think of the prevalence of unusual names in romance novels? Have you come across any that you particularly loved, or hated? What’s your favorite?

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