A while back , during my blog challenge, I did a post on some of the names I’ve used for my characters. Reading through the list, the first names are innocuous enough–if a bit on the unusual side–but the tenth is…well…undeniably odd. If you’ve read the post, you’ll know that one of my characters is called Squeaky. That isn’t his real name; he was dubbed that by my protagonist because of a certain falsetto quality of his voice and the fact that she was cranky over him trying to kidnap her. However, he’s known as Squeaky throughout most of the book, with his legal name only being mentioned once in passing. Why? Because…
1. The quirkier the name, the clearer the picture.
For minor characters especially, you want to be able to devote only one or two sentences to characterization before moving on with the main characters’ story. Picking a name that says something about the character–whether it points out a physical trait(as with Squeaky), an ethnic heritage, or just plays on name connotations–is one of fastest ways of getting your point across without going into too much detail.
2. Remember me?
Some of the most famous fictional characters in the world have quirky names. Sherlock Holmes, Professor Xavier, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Xena, Spock–all quite unusual. It’s a part of what makes them memorable, and can serve to help your character stand out from the rest (not that you should rely solely on that, but still).
Conversely, if you have a crowd of oddly named characters and leave your main character with the only normal name of the bunch, that works, too. It certainly seems to have worked for Rowling.
3. Tonal Quality
The names you choose can help set the tone of your entire piece. Quirky ones, in particular. A ridiculously pretentious moniker adds to a period piece. An obscure(but not too obscure) ethnic name enhances an exotic setting. A giggle-worthy nick-name can pull together the elements of a comedy beautifully. And so on.
On the other side of the matter:
1. If your name is Kanjjdighw, you may be trying too hard.
There are limits to everything, and this is one area where the line between okay and not-okay is paper-thin. A name that’s so unusual it becomes unbelievable is definitely in the not-okay zone. It’ll annoy your editors, alienate your readers, and drive your spellcheck berserk. As writers, we tend to get a bit obsessed with being unique, but it has to stop somewhere. It’s better to have a dull name in a great story than a name so odd no one pays attention to the story.
2. One thing is not like the others in this picture.
Sometimes a quirky name just does not fit. Trying to shoehorn one into a drama or a serious piece of historical fiction is seriously wrong, and your readers will know it. You don’t have to go completely the other way and name everyone John Smith, but throwing fistfuls of fun, irreverent names at a sombre novella won’t do it any favors.
3. All things in moderation.
If used sparingly, quirky names can be lovely. If used too much too often, they can lose their punch and make your work sound like you were spending a bit too much time thumbing through baby name books. Realistically, not everyone in an average group of friends/acquaintances/enemies is going to have an intriguing name. A variety of names–from the outrageous to the everyday is typically your best bet–that all fit your particular story is your best bet. Besides, the personalities are the important bit, anyway.
So, where do you guys stand on quirky names? Discuss in the comments!