Let’s Talk Bookish: Character Names

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme that was originally created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books starting in August 2019, and was then cohosted with Dani @ Literary Lion from May 2020 to March 2022. Book Nook Bits has hosted since April 2022.

March 10: How Important Are Character Names?
(Hannah @ Hannah’s Library)

Prompts: Are character names important? Should they be very unique, or common enough that most readers will recognize and know how to pronounce them? What makes a character name unique? Do you like character names that have a deeper meaning tied to the story at large? What do you notice about character names in different genres? What are some of your favorite character names? What are some of your favorite characters with the same names?

Character names can be incredibly important. Whether they should be unique or not really depends on the genre of the book, the setting, even the types of characters being portrayed. It would be strange, after all, having a character named something like Onyx (to pick a random name!) in a Regency Romance, unless there was an exceptionally good reason for it. But in something more contemporary, or even in a Fantasy or Sci-Fi book, Onyx might be a perfectly fitting name.

I think recognising and knowing how to pronounce them is really subjective, so again it comes down to the author and genre. As an example, because I’m Welsh, I would immediately know how to pronounce Llewellyn, but someone from another country might not. Yet that shouldn’t stop a writer using the name if it fits a character – we all have Google at our fingertips, after all, and it would be easy to look it up!

As for a character name being unique, it can vary from one genre to another. Again, using Fantasy vs Historical, you can ‘get away’ with more unique names in Fantasy, but some might feel out of place in Historical settings. What makes a name unique is the frequency it’s used within the genre, I think.

I do like it when names have an in-story meaning, or a meaning tied into the character – a name can say a lot about a character’s upbringing and history, after all. Take Starr in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give – her father named her Starr for a specific reason, and it’s a key scene when we see her dad explaining her name. I’ve seen my own name – Eleanor – crop up a handful of times now, and writers seem to use it in different ways, which can tell you a lot about the characters themselves just in the way it’s used. The Haunting of Hill House’s main character Eleanor is commonly called Nell, (a nickname that has thankfully dropped out of use) and Eleanor Oliphant in Gail Honeyman’s novel has a first and last name that tie together quite nicely. My current read (Scarlet) has another Eleanor as a main character – when the book starts, other characters commonly call her Nell, but when someone takes the time to ask her what her preference is, they use the full Eleanor as she requests.

Names are a really fascinating subject, and I could talk about this for ages just by going through the last handful of books I’ve read. I’m not sure if I have particular favourite character names, but I don’t often start a book and think “Oh I saw that name recently!” Which just goes to show how many names there are in the world, and the different ways they can be used by writers.


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