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Name Trends in Christian Fiction

Monday, February 11, 2008

I just finished a very interesting (but unscientific) survey of trends in character names in Christian fiction. I received the CBD catalog in the mail today, and when reading through the blurbs, started seeing a few same names pop up again and again. So I went through and listed all of the character names that appear in the blurbs in the catalog. I left out Biblical, fantasy, and YA/children’s books and just focused on adult fiction—345 titles.

I found some very interesting trends. To see the lists I made—all names separated M/F as well as M/F lists broken down into contemporary, historical, and Amish—click here.

There were some names/variants that do tend to be used quite a bit:
Anna/Anne/Annie—6 times
Elizabeth/Beth/Liz/Lizzie—10 times
Catherine/Katherine/Caitlin/Kate/Katie/etc.—19 times
Grace—6 times
Julia—5 times
Maggie—5 times
Molly—5 times
Rachel/-ael/-elle—6 times

Because there are more women’s names mentioned in blurbs than men’s (probably about 2/3 the number of female names), there are fewer to compare, but there are still some obvious overusages:
Ben/Benjamin—6 times
Dan/Daniel/Danny—6 times
Jack/Jackson—7 times
Jacob/Jakob/Jake—9 times
John/Jonathan/etc.—9 times
Lucas/Luke—6 times
Mac/Mack/Max/Mick—7 times
Mat/Matt/Matthew—7 times
Michael/Mike—5 times
Pete/Peter—5 times
Sam/Samuel—5 times
Will—6 times

I guess it goes to show that there is a little more variety in female characters’ names. I was very disappointed to see how many times the name Julia popped up, since it’s the name of the heroine in Ransome’s Honor. Anne, the name of the heroine in Stand-In Groom, wasn’t as much of a surprise to see the number of times variations appear on the list. I didn’t see one George, though! And no Williams, just a bunch of Wills and one Bill. And the names of the hero and heroine of Menu for Romance weren’t in there at all!

What about your characters? Are their names on the list? How many times? If it’s a name that’s on there quite a few times, would you consider changing your character’s name to something unique? Does it bother you to see the same character names pop up over and over in the books you read?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 8:07 am

    That’s interesting. My main characters name is Abigail (Abby). Her side kicks are Josh and Rachael 😀 And Rachael’s older sister is Elizabeth. Some names are just going to be popular (Elizabeth!!!) With my names I needed to chose (especially for Abby) a name that could span multiple time periods.

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  2. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 11:24 am

    I would never have thought Molly or Jackson would be on there. That’s interesting.

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  3. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 11:24 am

    My characters are Kyla and Brett from one book and Miska and Dillan from another. So I’m good!

    But the book that’s at publishers now has Mike for the hero. But my heroine’s name there isn’t on the list, either.

    I think it’s hard to be too different when it comes to names. I love really unique names (first and last), but you’ve got to pick something that people will recognize. Something too off the wall, and you risk making your book too hard to read. Think Russian fiction, right?

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  4. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 11:31 am

    Sally–I agree . . . names that are too far out there don’t always work as a lot of times those will actually pull the reader out of the story.

    I tried listening to Hood on audio coming home from Baton Rouge at Christmas and I found I couldn’t keep the characters straight because all of the Welsh names were so strange to the ear that I couldn’t remember who was who—or even if it was a man or woman! Maybe if I start off reading it and can visually learn the names (I am a visually oriented learner, after all), it’ll be easier to listen to on audio.

    And Jennifer’s right—classic names are always going to be more represented on a list like this. I tend to go with traditional names for my characters, even in my contemporaries, because those will never “age” my story. In my third manuscript (the one I wrote before I started Stand-In Groom), the heroine’s name was Zarah. That’s the most out-there name I’ve ever used. The hero of that story was Kevin. I decided if I did one far-out name, the other needed to be pretty easy on the eyes/memory!

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  5. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 11:59 am

    None of my main character names appear there. I have one important secondary character named John. I’m writing 18th C. historical. My main characters are Ian and Seona. Then there’s Hugh, Lily, Lucinda, Rosalyn, Judith, Cecily, Malcolm, Thomas, Gideon, Naomi, Jackson, Ally (Alasdair), Jubal, Maisy, Esther, Pete, Munro… and one Will. *s*

    I don’t think I’d noticed the frequent occurrence of names, but it’s nice to find original or unusual ones. Not too out there, though, as someone mentioned, so that I’m always struggling over pronunciation. My character, Seona, has given some readers problems, so there’s a scene early on where her name is good-naturedly mocked, so the pronunciation is perfectly clear (it’s SHO-nah, not See-OH-nah). It’s an odd name for a slave, but there’s a very good reason for her having that name.

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  6. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 12:46 pm

    I like familiar but uncommon names, if that makes sense. My current wip has Riva and Darren. My last ms had Shelby and Vaughn. The one before that Joelle and Damon.

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  7. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 1:04 pm

    When I first started writing as a teenager, I loved weird spellings for names or really unusual names. I got dinged on this in my college creative writing class, though, when I turned in something with a character named Khrystyne. In my defense, I got it from the actress Khrystine Haje (from Head of the Class), but my very literary-minded professor had a cow.

    So in the next piece I wrote—which turned into my 10-year, 200,000+ word unfinished epic, I had Ashley (called “Ash”), Christine, AJ (for Amy Joy), Jessica, Kenya, and Elisa along with Robert, Allan, David, Michael, and Brandon, with the only unusual one being one of my guys–Kit, short for Kithen, which was a play on the real name of the guy he was based on, whom we called by his initials, TK.

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  8. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 1:05 pm

    So we were really bored when the catalog came in the mail, hmm? LOL, j/k! 😉

    My hero’s name is Frederich and my heroine’s name is Elizabeth, but I’ve been calling her Lizzy-with-a-“y” as opposed to the “ie” spelling. That may change.

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  9. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 1:06 pm

    BTW, if I ever have time to blog again (LOL), I’m launching a counter-attack on my blog against your “jowly” and “doughy” attack on Colin Firth. 😛

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  10. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 1:12 pm

    Lori–
    With the Cajun last names in my contemporary books, I’ve tried to find ways to work the pronunciation of the name into the dialogue, but it doesn’t usually work. So I just have to let it go and trust that the reader will either figure out how to pronounce it right or they’ll come up with some approximation that works for them.

    The one time I did manage to work it in was in my small-town fiction piece, when my Cajun girl moves to a tiny town in the foothills of Tennessee:

    A smile started to creep into the corners of Kirsten’s lips. “Thanks . . .” She blushed again. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know your name.”

    “Charmianne Hebert.”

    A-bear . . . H-e-b-e-r-t?”

    “That’s right.” . . .

    Oh, and I guess I should have thought to mention Charmianne, as to most people it is a very unusual looking name. My aunt—my dad’s sister, who died when I was in college—was named Charmian, pronounced shar-mee-ANN, not CHAR-mee-un, as it looks. I added the -ne on the end to show how the last syllable is pronounced. I thought about changing it to Sh- but it just didn’t look right.

    Later, continuing to play with the pronunciation of the name, I have the mayor say:
    “I saw Earl Haymes this morning—he said something about a ‘charming bear’ coming into town. I guess I’ll have to seek this person out and make whoever it is feel welcome. . . .”

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  11. Tuesday, February 12, 2008 4:28 pm

    Kaye,

    Knowing they were Cajun, I’d probably have gotten Hebert right. I tend to “French-i-fy” the pronunciation of Cajun names, to be on the safe side. And I got Charmianne right at first glance. Yay for me! *g*

    I’m dealing with Scots/Gaelic names in my WIP, some unusual (to modern ears) but recognizable 18th century names, and a sprinkling of the classics and the more obscure Biblical names.

    Naming characters is great fun. Sometimes they come with their full names attached, sometimes it’s a long search, trying this one on, then discarding it, then another, and another, until one finally takes.

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  12. Wednesday, February 13, 2008 8:08 am

    I have to say the worst names (and I don’t mind ‘out there names’) are the ones I have no clue how to pronounce and can’t even create my own pronunciation. If I can at least say it how I think it should be I’m ok, but names I can’t even begin to pronounce…drive me nuts.

    My most out there favorite name (which will be used for one of my characters in one story one day) is Kaeleigh.

    My other out there (invented) name for the heroine of my SF story (which needs to be rewritten) is Avrina — but I think that works. A person can say it…though most people don’t realize it should be said as if the ‘i’ is a long ‘e’ Av-rena. (Why the ‘i’ then you ask – cause it looks prettier to me (I know great reasoning) 🙂

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  13. Wednesday, February 13, 2008 5:34 pm

    Jennifer, my little sister’s name is Elizabeth! And we have a cousin named Josh. If your characters last names are Smith I’ll faint.

    Having lived in Louisiana for nearly all of my life and having learned to talk here, whenever I come across a word I don’t know I tend to pronounce it French. I got a very rude awakening when I was on Long Island the first time and how I imagined the town names were pronounced, in French, wasn’t how they were pronounced at all! It still amuses me. No matter what language the word hails from, a new to me word with a double “LL” always get pronounced as “Y”. Cuz that’s old French!

    I only have one female name on that list. Grace. I highly doubt I will ever try to publish that story though. The subject matter is way too intense for CBA. It would be fine in ABA, but I’d have to take out the redemption theme and then it doesn’t work. No redemption theme means no hope for Peter and Grace, and that makes the story very depressing.

    Three names on the male list. I’m lucky enough to be Irish AND Scottish, so I like using Celtic and Gaelic names for my heroes. And Biblical names too. My siblings and I all have Biblical names, so I really love playing on that theme.

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