Discussion: Does a Character’s Name Affect Your Opinion?

Medieval

There are some names that have been completely tarnished by people I know in real life.

There was a girl I knew called Jade who was pretty horrible, so now I’m not a fan of that name. (Sorry to all other Jade’s, I’m sure you’re lovely). Also, George. I’ve known too many George’s and too many of them have annoyed me.

As a result of this, it can sometimes be a little harder to connect with characters who have names with bad connotations for me. Writing this out, it sounds silly really. I shouldn’t be judging a character simply because a girl I knew when I was ten was mean. It’s one of those things that sticks with you but I try not to be so judgemental of a character because it reminds me of someone I know; that would just be petty.

Jade (1)

But what about when you just don’t like the name? Or the name doesn’t seem to suit the character?

For example, what about Four in Divergent? I think the nickname really fits. But what about his given name? (If you haven’t read the books and don’t want to know his given name, even though it doesn’t spoil any plot points, then skip to below the book covers).

His given name is Tobias and as soon as I read that all the mysteriousness of Four disappeared. For some reason, the name just killed the mood. It just doesn’t sound very tough when the whole point of Four is he’s meant to be tough and strong and confident. He’s meant to instill bravery in Tris and represent the endurance and heroism of the Dauntless faction. Four does that, Tobias doesn’t.

On the other hand, I recently reviewed an ARC of Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi. I adored it and you can check out my review for it here. I won’t give anything away, but the antagonist of the novel is called Ruben. I’ve always loved that name but after reading this book my opinion has changed slightly. I still like the name, yet it now reminds me of a manipulative man. I guess I won’t be naming any future sons ‘Ruben’ anymore!

Of course, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get my drift. There will always be a slight association with that name. Just like the name ‘Angelina’ will always make Angelina Jolie spring to mind. Or how names like Chandler and Rachel will make many people think of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take someone named ‘Chandler’ seriously.

However, what about the idea that characters with names you like will make your opinion of them increase? One name I’ve always liked is Sam. In Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series (which I’m always talking about on this blog), there’s a character called Sameth, Sam for short. He’s one of my favourite characters and after reading the novels I liked the name ‘Sam’ even more. If Sam had been a horrible character, my opinion of the name might have gone the other way, yet instead the name will forever make me think of this character and have good connotations for me.

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I know this post was brief, but it was only a thought and I wanted to hear some other opinions on it. So, what do you guys think? Are there names you’ll always dislike because of someone in real life or someone in a book? Are there names you like more because of some of your favourite characters? 

Let me know in the comments below!

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30 thoughts on “Discussion: Does a Character’s Name Affect Your Opinion?

  1. This happens to me so much! I can’t think of any on the spot but sometimes I like characters less because they have the same name of another bad character in a book. Also (this is sort of related), I hate when I’m reading romance/there’s romance between two character that have the same names as people I know. I just find it really weird. Like, there was this one book (can’t think of the name) and the protag. was called Elizabeth and that’s my mom’s name so… I didn’t read it. I just think it’s really weird if I already have the name associated with someone.

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    • Yeah! Obviously there are a limited amount of names but it can be a bit jarring when a really nice character in one book has the same name as a horrible one in another! Haha I can understand why it would be a difficult book to read when it’s a romance and the protagonist shares a name with your mum! That’s pretty awkward! Thankfully that’s never happened to me as my mum’s name is more unusual, but now I’m dreading it ever happening haha! But definitely, if you already associate the name with someone in real life it can feel a bit strange and affect how you see the character.

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  2. This definitely happens to me. I remember when I was reading The Selection, anytime they said America’s name I would cringe because I hated it so much. I had to call her Ames in my head. I have less of an issue with characters being named what people are in real life. But if a name doesn’t fit, it ruins so many things for me.

    For Divergent I didn’t like the name Four OR Tobias hahah, so not much there. But I did love the name Tris.

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    • I totally agree about America in The Selection, I hated that name and never got past the first book! It’s interesting that characters being named after people you know doesn’t affect you! It doesn’t affect me all the time, but it can be a little jarring. Hahah and that’s a shame you didn’t like Four or Tobias! But I actually didn’t like Tris! It’s weird how people’s opinions on names differ so much. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. I absolutely feel the same way! I don’t like it, but when I read names that I just don’t like or know people that have them, it feels weird to me and I kinda judge the book then…That just happened the other day with After by Anna Todd. I read a sample on my Kindle and everything was fine but then I read the original version on Wattpad with the names of One Direction and I just couldn’t deal with it!

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    • I’m glad you agree! Yeah I feel really bad for then judging the characters for their names but it’s so hard not to! And oh god that would definitely put me off haha if I found out a book was originally a One Direction fanfic that would totally put me off, I wouldn’t be able to take the story or the characters seriously. Also, I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey but the fact that it’s a Twilight fanfic makes it even worse haha!

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  4. This is a very interesting discussion! To some extent, I do agree with most of your points.

    Associations are instinctive and can’t be helped. I guess that’s why a lot of authors — particularly those of the Fantasy and/or Sci-Fi genre — avoid using common names for their characters. Using uncommonplace names is a way to prevent tainting their imagined world with preconceived perspective and unwarranted associations.

    And this isn’t limited to just books! I think this sort of thing happens everywhere. I, for one, am pretty thankful I’m named Shealea. It makes me easier to remember and to differentiate from others.

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    • Thank you! Yeah it definitely helps in Fantasy and Sci-Fi to have unusual names, especially because the cast of characters tends to be bigger. However, sometimes made-up names can be very hard to pronounce or just not sound right, which can kill the mood of the book a bit. Haha yes your name is much more uncommon so it seems more unique to you, but won’t pop up in popular culture as much! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Such an interesting post! I didn’t think I did turn my nose up at characters until I was reading this and realized I actually do it quite a lot. I will say though that it happens to me in real life more so than in books. Having people ask you what you think of their potential baby names can be a struggle at times lol

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    • Thank you! Yeah I didn’t realise I did it really but then had some kind of epiphany in the shower haha! Yeah I agree, it happens a bit more in real life than in books, mainly because characters aren’t real so you won’t be interacting with them! Hahah I don’t think I’d be able to keep my true opinions to myself if someone was asking me about baby names, thankfully no one I know is planning children just yet!

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  6. I’m glad I’m not the only person who’s picky about character names. I avoid books where the main character has the same name as me because I hate my name. Reading it over and over makes me cringe. I also chose not to read a book by my favorite author because the main characters have the same names as my grandparents. Um . . . no. The names would be too distracting for me.

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    • Aww I’m sure your name’s not that bad! I remember seeing someone’s passport page online that went viral because he was called Darth Vader! So you could be called that haha! But there is a book I bought recently, a horror, and the evil girl in it has the same name as me so that’s gonna be interesting to read! And that would be really weird to read, especially if the characters with the names of your grandparents had quite a steamy romance haha!

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  7. This is such an interesting question! I don’t really notice character’s names, but I know some readers are really particular when it comes to names. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous discussion! ❤

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    • Thank you! Yeah I think it depends from person to person really! I put a lot of emphasis on names, I’m not sure why, whereas other people might care more about the setting or just the writing style itself. And thanks again! 🙂

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  8. Such an interesting post! I honestly have planned to do this similar post but I haven’t got around it yet :’) character names are BIG DEAL for me! and omg you’re so right Tobias is a horrible name 😦 I also put off reading The Selection because the MC name is America Singer and I’m sorry I just can’t deal with it. However, I live in Indonesia and we have different types of names from the people in western countries, so there was never any time when a character’s name reminded me of someone I know in real life haha great post! 😀

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    • Thank you! It’ll be interesting to see you’re post on this topic! 🙂 and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who puts some emphasis on characters names! I totally agree about America Singer, I only read the first book in that series because it wasn’t the best anyway but that name put the nail in the coffin for me, it’s just so cheesy! Haha that’s good though, you don’t have to worry about your parents names appearing in love scenes or something!

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      • Hahah I know, thankfully it’s never happened to me but other people have commented and said it has! So awkward! Haha exactly, there are just some names that really don’t work, but if an author likes the name then I suppose we can’t argue with that, it’s their creation 🙂

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  9. This is actually something that does make a difference in your reading experience. Most authors are aware of it, and although they’re going to use the names they think suit their characters best, it does impact what readers think of the personality/decisions of the fictional people.

    Tobias in Divergent is a great example. If his real name had been something that seemed more tough, more “manly” (like his father wanted him to be, in fact, although it was for twisted reasons) – let’s say David or Michael (thinking Biblical strength) or even something like Zeus or Apollo – it would make more sense. My cat’s name is in fact Toby – full name Tobias – and because of that alone, I had a really hard time imagining “Four” as a tough guy.

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    • Yeah I’m definitely aware of it when I write, but like you said it’s down to the author at the end of the day, they choose what names they like best and they can’t please everyone. I agree, the name just didn’t feel tough, and we had been told for so long how strong Four was, and then it was revealed his name was Tobias and it just didn’t seem to fit. Haha yes, Toby is quite a common name for cats or dogs actually, so I imagine it was really difficult for you to see Four as being all masculine and strong! Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. If a name is really odd or inappropriate, it might keep pulling me out of the book (especially since I prefer audiobooks); but I don’t really associate one person (or character) with a name to another. My mother definitely does though; if she has bad memories of someone with a specific name, then that name is basically ruined for her.

    My Most Recent Discussion: “But I Wanted You to Have a Normal Life”

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    • Yeah I imagine that’s much more jarring with an audiobook than with a physical book. Haha it’s strange that some people put a lot of emphasis on names and others don’t. I’m probably more like your mum haha!

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