Character of the Week: Typical Names

This character is typical, in a typically typical way.

Female, 17, United States (somewhere typical like Minnesota)
Raised by a single, slightly overprotective father. He would be on the liberal side, and is a journalist.
Her love interest’s name is Damien. He’s handsome but in a…sort of dangerous way. He doesn’t seem like he’s to be trusted.
She’s beautiful but cynical, and tends to think she knows everything.
YA Thriller

There was so much typical about this novel that it was almost painful for me. From the “handsome” and “dangerous” love interest with the name Damien (like that hasn’t been done to death), to the overtly obvious murderer (edited here to protect the guilty), this was begging for a typical name.

Even the genre, or especially the genre in this case, screams for commonality. Generally thrillers and detective stories are set in typical places (this one is specifically set “somewhere typical”), and populated with middle aged white guys who are nearly always given Tom, Dick, or Harry names. Literally. There are many named Richard or Dick (get it? a PI named Dick!), or Thomas, or something else banal like Harry (like Dirty Harry). Just two weeks ago I saw a “professional” writer bragging about his modern contemporary detective who was “perfectly” named Dick, even though almost no one has been named Dick for 45 years!

Here the writer has put the typical spin on the typical genre, by making the story confirm to the new popular genre of Young Adult and giving it the typical Young Adult female protagonist. And even though the protagonist is not a middle aged white guy, the antagonist is!

So when I looked for names for this character, no one should be surprised that I was naturally attracted to typical, classic feminine names. The kind you could give to a middle aged white gal, or her teenaged daughter.

I try to avoid names that are very common, but the way I saw this character was with a long and elegant name.

  • Kathryn
  • Sabrina
  • Caroline
  • Alexandra
  • Cheyenne

The writer replied: Thank you! I like those a lot. I feel like Kathryn would work well.

I know I tend to be a bit of a know-it-all, like this typical character. And I know that I tend to be a bit too opinionated at times. But I feel it must be said that when you populate your novel with characters that have typical, common, popular names (as if you’d named this character Jessica, the number one girl’s name 17 years ago) you are just taking a cop out.

Give your character the name he or she deserves, and give their naming the energy it deserves, and the story will be more creative, more interesting, and better for it.

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