Your name in a book – yay or nay?

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?


21 thoughts on “Your name in a book – yay or nay?

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  1. I’ve never seen a character with my name, except for a picture book that was popular when I was little called “Belinda the Cow”! I hardly ever get on name keyrings either.
    I don’t know what makes authors choose a particular name… I just imagined it was an organic thing, like the character just “feels” like a Harry or a Tess etc, but it might change over time, you know?
    Ps. Yay for Dymocks!

      1. I love that one too, it’s far better than the Sydney one… their classics and literature sections are to die for 😍
        Gary Potter! I love it!

  2. One of the coolest character names I’ve ever come across is “Blue” from Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Raven Boys.” Now I want to name a character “Green” or something!

  3. As someone with a very common name I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me! In fact, as a kid I liked it because when I read my name in a book I felt special! Of course my name is definitely a generational one so there are less books now with my name in them.

    As an author, I spend ages trying to come up with just the right name. Sometimes a name will just come to me – like Jenna in Breaking the Drought. She was Jenna from day one and I have no idea why! But it took me ages to come up with “Luke” and in fact I asked my Facebook followers to help me name him. If I’m stuck I look at the character’s age and then consult the Birth Register for that year. (I so love the internet!) In my new book (out next year) the heroine has an unusual name. She began the story with a different, more common name but as I wrote I came up with the idea of using her name as a motif for the book – it fits with a theme running through the story.

  4. I have a very common name and haven’t actaully read any books with my names (I know there are some, I just haven’t read them) I do feel a little odd when watching t.v. shows with the same name, especially when it’s a main character.I don’t think I would compare myself to the character though, unless they were like me in personality. But then again I often judge the character on their actions, if it’s not something I would do. My parents naughty name for me is actaully another name, longer than my own. My name is Emma and they called me Emily when I was bad, and I truly hate the name Emily.

  5. Interesting post. I think if I saw my name in a novel it would be a small distraction.
    My daughter’s name was quite popular in the early 80s. When she went to primary school she was called by her name followed by initial of surname. She signed holiday cards that way too – like I didn’t know her without it, LOL.

  6. I don’t see my name often in books, but it does happen (probably the best known is the Lucy in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’). I do find that I will after be attracted to books where the author has my name, or a character does, that’s weird though, right? It’s like a sort of solidarity thing I think.

    In fact I was named after a Lucy in my sister’s favourite picture book when she was three.

    1. That’s so sweet!

      I can understand you being attracted to Lucy authors and characters (there’s lots of great authors called Lucy). My name (and my profession too, now that I think of it!) just always seems to luck out in the book draw.

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