Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guest Post: Jeanne on "What’s in a Name?"

Please welcome back Jeanne of the Bristol Public library with a few thoughts regarding author names. I have noticed the same thing. Before we get to her post, let me digress for just a moment. If my digression bugs you, skip on down the page. It is my blog so I can blab if I want to. 

Over the years my Mom has talked about the fact she did not know any Kevins so her and Dad went with that. Of course, by the time I got to public school there was a sea of Kevins. It seemed like every class had at least two boys carrying the Kevin mantle of responsibility. Every employer I ever worked for had at least two—myself and somebody else. On one job there were three of us. Management was not amused when we linked hands during a staff meeting and chanted, “By the power invested in we Kevins we shall make it so!" Of course, I was the one hauled into the office and talked to about my attitude after the meeting because, as one manager put it, “You’re the strange one.” I don’t know…maybe throwing in the Thundercats yell at the end was too much.

And now on to Jeanne….

What’s in a Name?

I noticed some years ago that I was making assumptions about people from their names in the obituary pages.  Zachary?  Probably a young person, no older than 30.  Ruby? I’d guess at least 80.  Donna?  Probably between 60 and 45.  I was right often enough that I still do it today.  I think I first noticed trends when I was in Children’s Services back in the 80s.  It seemed that every other little girl was named either Heather or Amber. In my high school the number of Brendas, Glendas, and Lindas was staggering, but apparently the “—nda” fad is over.

Some names go in and out of fashion, while others are timeless:  James, Elizabeth, Sara, Thomas, or Emily may be for an eight year old or an eighty year old.  A prominent military person used to result in many namesakes: I’ve met a number of elderly men named “Winfield Scott.”  “Lafayette” was a popular name in my mother’s family and a British friend was appalled to find out I had cousins named Napoleon.  Most of the gem names for women have gone out of style (Ruby, Opal, Garnet—though the latter is as likely to be for a man as a women) although Pearl is making a slight comeback.  The same goes for the flower names:  Pansy, Daisy, Viola, Violet, but Rose hangs on. State names have also gone by the wayside: Virginia, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Carolina, and Nevada. Dakota is popular, but that may be from the Native American tribe rather than the states. Sherry has lost popularity but I still meet Brandys.

Note: By coincidence, today in the library’s book club, a member was reading Agatha Christie’s Pale Horse.  She was enjoying it, but she said she was distracted by all the “old” names:  she was envisioning the characters as being much older than they were supposed to be in the book. I checked, and saw that there were female characters named Pamela, Rhoda, and Eileen, all of which have lost most of their popularity but would have still been stylish when the book came out in 1961.

At my workplace we laugh because while the staff is relatively small in number there are a lot of the same names repeated.  We now have only one Nancy, but for a while we had four; we have three Susans/Susies; two Christys;  two Brendas; two Rebeccas; two Amys, with another person nicknamed Amy; and until recently, two Megans.  When I first joined the staff, confusion often reigned.  I was Jeanne, but we also had a Jean, a Jeannie, a Janie, and a Gina.  It took a lot of careful questioning to figure out who was being asked for sometimes. We joked that we weren’t going to hire anyone else who had a matching name because it was just too confusing.

Which sort of leads into what inspired this post: authors with the same first names who write in the same genre.  Years ago, I was asked to find a Christian author named Lori.  Confidently, I led the patron to books by Lori Copeland.  The patron said no, that wasn’t the right author.  This was before the internet, so I couldn’t google the info and the patron couldn’t remember anything else about the author.  By chance when shelving, I came across books by Lori Wick.

Since then I’ve noticed several other genres have multiple well-known authors with the same first name who are all actively writing.  Here are my favorites:

Thriller-type mysteries:  Look for men named Brad. They haven’t cornered the market, but they own a good chunk of it!

Brad Thor
Brad Taylor
Brad Meltzer
Brad Parks

Fantasy?  Look for a Terry!

Terry Goodkind
Terry Brooks
Terry Prachett

Female mystery authors, non-cozy?  Look for Lisa, Linda, or Karin.

Lisa Scottoline
Lisa Gardner
Lisa Jackson
Lisa Unger

Linda Fairstein
Linda Castillo
Linda Howard

Karin Slaughter
Karin Fossum

What names have you noticed?


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hello Kevin and Jeanne,

I enjoyed reading your posts and decided to comment. The name game is an interesting one. As a writer, one item of necessity is the naming of characters. We want the name to somehow be appropriate and fit the character so that readers can better visualize the character.

Earl Staggs said...

Well, there aren't a slew of writers named Earl. Okay, there once was Erle Stanley Gardner a long time ago.

jrlindermuth said...

I prefer some of the older names to the present crop and have used them, especially in my historical novels. The heroine in my contempoary Sticks Hetrick mystery series is Flora Vastine. Personally I think the name has character and stands out from the plethora of more common names. The name Flora, by the way, was borrowed from a great-aunt and there's also a family connection to Vastine.

BPL Ref said...

Ah, but there's Earl Hamner of Waltons fame. In mysteries, there's another Earl-- Earl Der Biggers.

BPL Ref said...

Hello, Jacqueline,
I do notice character names as well and am sure that takes a bit of an author's time picking the right one! We do make assumptions about people based on names. The only time it works against the author is when names become dated, as was mentioned in the book club. The names chosen were stylish names for 1960 when the book was written-- perfect names for twenty or thirty somethings-- but fifty years later the reader complained that she was envisioning people in their seventies because of the names. A few decades from now, I expect we'll be envisioning all the Britneys as being middle aged!


Linda Thorne said...

I work in human resources, and it's hard enough to remember employees' names, but so many of the younger folks have one-of-a-kind names, spelled so odd it becomes almost impossible to remember. I wonder sometimes if those funny-named younger folks are proud of their names or if they get sick of spelling them for every single person who needs to get the information. Also, wonder if they get tired of seeing the spelling of it massacred. Some babies are now being named really old names like Charlotte, Alma. My first name is old, and pretty much done in. I think my sister's is too. Her name is Brenda. In writing projects, I try to come up with names that reflect the age of the character, sometimes the race, or any characteristic a reader might connect with that name.