Recently, I read a book where the main character had the same name as me. Now, if your name is Michelle or Sarah or Matt or John, that’s probably nothing new to you. But I have a fairly unusual given name (like the kind of name you can’t find on those name keyrings, stickers or even candles as I saw this morning) so I’m quite used to it not being in the public eye. In fact, most people don’t even call me by my given name. I’m probably in trouble if I hear it. And generally, I don’t react to people calling me by my given name because that’s not what people call me. So seeing my name repeatedly was just plain weird.
It got even stranger because the character isn’t called by her given name much in the narrative, unless she was in trouble. (She was in trouble a lot in this book). I found it difficult at times to separate her from me, because other people don’t have the same name as me. (Okay, a few. But I think I know them all personally.) What did this character do to deserve such a random name? Why couldn’t she be a Sarah or Michelle? And why wasn’t she a good character instead of someone rather selfish?
Well, this character was pretty unique. And as I’ve grown up, there’s been fewer books with heroines called Sarah and Michelle. It seems that most characters are not Kate or Simon, but something more unusual. Is this so we remember the characters more as individuals? For example, in Kylie Scott’s Lick, the heroine is Evelyn. I didn’t even have to look that up even though I read the book over six months ago. Scarlett O’Hara is a character you can never forget from Gone with the Wind – but would you remember her name as well as her actions if she’d been Sam? (Interestingly, she was originally called Pansy. Not sure if that would have stood up to the tests of time as well). But do you remember the names Rachel (the main character from The Girl on the Train) called the couple she watched from the train window? Do you remember their real names? Probably not (I don’t). Are we meant to remember them? Is it because of their relatively common names that we don’t (it’s Jess and Jason aka Megan and Scott).
I’d love to know how authors choose their names for characters – is it a baby book? For someone they know? A cool name they’ve always liked? When I’ve had to write case studies, I am the laziest person possible. I always choose short names (less keystrokes, therefore finish faster). It’s always Sam, Max, Jo, Jay…
If you have a reasonably common name (e.g. are you known by your first name and initial of your surname at work? Are you given a number next to your name in friends’ phonebooks?), does your heart give a jolt when you see your name in a book? Or are you used to it? How do you relate to the character who shares your name?