New Old Names

When I hear “Sherlock,” I think of highly functioning sociopaths. When I hear “Dean,” I think of brotherhood and loyalty. When I hear “Doctor,” I do not think of my general practitioner (sorry, Doc).

Impressions given by and historically attached to names influence how we assign them in fiction. Presently we seem to take those conjectures and go where they point us without a second thought, easily allowing past determinations to govern how we title our heroes. What if we didn’t?

Naming Characters 

Several months ago someone wrote a post about names associated with handsome men. (She asked for names people associated with hot guys in fiction and I’ve gotta say I wasn’t surprised with the list people came up with). That got me thinking…

Now, you and I have both probably read much of the same general advice about naming characters: “The name speaks volumes about a character.” “Choose carefully.” “Choose for meaning.”

Essentially, a rugged guy needs a “rugged” name. A sassy lady needs a “sassy” name. A studious character needs an intellectual name. I think we’re inclined to be acquiescent of popular ideas (socially constructed, imaginary) and corresponding popular guidelines that lead us to neatly apply names like adjectives. As an easy, preformed extension of a persona.

What If… 

Names acquired their present connotations at some point in time, right? So, what if we could built a new character so powerfully that it reimagines the perception/reception of a name previously stereotyped, shunned, or even ignored? Instead of a name that changes the character, we embolden a character who changes the name.

Pick A Name 

I have a soft spot for nerdy uncommon names (“uncool/boring” names not frequently used by modern Prince Charming’s, YA heroines, or most main characters post-1960). I also enjoy mismatching names/characters, as well as bringing back names that died with our great-grandparents. As writers we have those abilities, don’t we?

Once Again, What If… 

What if you could take a historically hated name and replace the disgust surrounding it with hope? Better yet, what if you could transform a plain name into something so believably awesome that it can change someone’s view of their own name which perhaps they’d never truly liked? (I like forward-looking “what-if’s.” So many possibilities.)

[I might be reaching with this topic but I’m okay with that. I’m just thinkin’.]

14 thoughts on “New Old Names

  1. Joan Enoch says:

    Yes – I’m with you ‘just thinking’ around this. I have had trouble choosing names for characters – after long thought, for one character, I decided to go along with ‘Madeleine’ and then the Madeleine McCann thing happened. Had to leave the name of little Madeleine to her – and I chose another one, but it was difficult – I’d been going with that name for some time.
    If you are writing historically, you need to come up with a name that fits the period of history. Names so much go by fashion.
    I’m with you on letting the name (no matter what it is) become associated with a strong or interesting character rather than the other way round.
    But there are historically hated names that I couldn’t see myself going along with – like ‘Adolf’.
    Just thinking…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Duri Rolvsson says:

      Actually, ditto with ‘Adolf.’ That was the first hated history name that came to mind. However, I had a relative we called “Uncle Adolf” and I can’t say I’d ever associated his version of “Adolf” with anything other than autumn leaves, pumpkin pie, and feeding the cardinals/blue jays…

      Concerning historical writing, I agree. Absolutely. I usually stick to inventing my own worlds so I can skip and do cartwheels around the naming department wearing a cape like an unsupervised 4-year-old in Toy’R’Us. But historical fiction is a dream of mine. OH man. One day. I look forward to it, and all the rules I don’t know about.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. paulapederson says:

    Thanks for your like on my gold rush blog, I’ll be posting more of those. I’m old, and have watched to many names go in and out of fashion. Nobody uses old or classic names any more, they make up new ones no one has ever heard of. For instance, how do you imagine a postmistress in rural Maine names Tashonda?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Duri Rolvsson says:

      You’re very welcome! I enjoy reading little chunks of history from people who have ties to it. For me, it brings history to life. Say, what are some old or classic names you’ve noticed that nobody uses anymore? (I’d love to use them!)


  3. riverfox237 says:

    I like this thought! And I actually have an example from my own experience. When I was a kid, I associated the name “Seth” with ‘bad-boy’ stereotypes; I’m not sure where the perceptions came from, probably TV, since I didn’t know any Seths. Then I watched one of the Beethoven movies where the daughter meets a boy named Seth. And yeah, he’s a little bit of a social outcast, but he’s actually a really nice guy. I remember feeling SO confused because I’d always thought of the name Seth as being a jerkish name, maybe even slightly evil, unlikeable. I think that movie went a long way towards my current ambivalence towards Seth; it’s just another name, and actually rather a nice one. Also now I find it funny that I ever thought ‘Seth’ was an ‘evil’ name since now I know that the first-ever Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve and was actually a super-cool God-following guy who was the ancestor of Moses. XD; WELP THAT IS A BIT OF A REVERSAL


  4. paulapederson says:

    from my generation, Barbara, Nancy, Shirley, (Many named their girls after Shirley Temple.) Kimberly. Earlier girls were Etta, Edith Harriet, Faith Hope. Plain old John, Bill, Bob. Now it is Aiden, Ian. Henry was so nerdy people stopped using it, but I think it is in vogue again. just read that this is the first year that the perennial favorite of Mike is out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Duri Rolvsson says:

      Ah, those are good! Some of the girls names on my list are Marilyn, Joan, Linda and Billie Mae. (I’ve only met ladies with those names when I was a dental assistant – they consistently belonged to older patients. Linda was super popular. Once, we had three Linda’s in the office at the same time and it completely goofed up our first-name system. Doc: “Linda’s ready to go.” Me: “Which one?”) Etta. Oooh, I like that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Joan Enoch says:

    Just in answer to ‘Joan’ being on one of your lists–since I am a ‘Joan’–I’m 65–I’ll say that first–but there weren’t all that many ‘Joans’ about in my generation–you came across a few, but the name seems to be associated with generations before mine–oh, I’m British–English, precisely, so I’m talking of there. But my slightly older sister was called ‘Jean’ –and I got ‘Joan’–Mam got in with that name fast, to get her choice–someone else had been too influential, she thought, in choosing Jean’s name. She was going to call me ‘Heather’–a lovely name, and I’ve known a few–but that was almost completely out of fashion during the time of my youth–and so I considered myself fortunate with ‘Joan’.

    Liked by 1 person

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