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Melkor just SOUNDS evil
November 16, 2012 10:21 AM   Subscribe

More than most literary phenomena, names in fiction seem very straightforward until you start to think about them. The simple question, ‘why does a name sound right?’ leads to a whole range of questions. Are there rules about how names are given to characters? Do naming practices differ in different periods? Are they specific to particular genres? Do different authors use names in entirely different ways? There are also anxieties to address: is discussion of names in fiction snagged in a feedback loop, in which we think James Bond is such a good name for a spy because that’s what we know it to be?
posted by Chrysostom (118 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oooooh! I was just thinking about this. Very few things will cause me to quickly drop a book I had been considering like a stupid name. Names that resulted in me running far away from the books in question: "Knox Bolander", "Decky Bradshaw" and "Starbride".
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:33 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Slab Squatthrust! Big McLargehuge! Beef Blastbody! Smoke Manmuscle!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:36 AM on November 16, 2012 [24 favorites]


I think the last straw for my attempt to read the completely-by-the-numbers fantasy "epic" The Wayfarer Redemption was when the prophesied hero of lore was referred to as "the StarMan." Annoying camel-caps are bad enough, but there was no way to shake the mental image of a yellow, five-pointed, two-eyed star bouncing around the Mushroom Kingdom with plate armor and a broadsword.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Glad to see that Gussie Fink-Nottle makes an appearance.
posted by MtDewd at 10:38 AM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Have you noticed the JB trend for superspy names?
James Bond
Jason Bourne
Jack Bauer
er...
That's it.
posted by ZipRibbons at 10:39 AM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


It is, I think, commonly known that Ian Fleming was trying to find an ordinary name for Bond because so many literary spies had flamboyant or tough-guy names. The name came from the author of a contemporary Audubon Guide. A fact I now see in the first paragraph of the link. Durrrrr

The topic of Tough-guy names always reminds of the infamous MST3K episode "Space Mutiny" -- I guess I'm not the only one, Joakim Ziegler -- which featured a muscle-bound hero dying for a new moniker every scene.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:42 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jackmerius Tacktheratrix!
posted by Mister_A at 10:44 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can never keep names straight, either in real life or in books, so I feel a stronger connection to a book whenever an author just refers to all their characters with descriptive epithets. I didn't even notice that none of the characters in Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland had names (they're all "the librarian," "the colonel," "grandpa") until I was describing a part of it to someone.
posted by theodolite at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2012


Tricky calling that a trend, ZipRibbons-- James Bond first appeared in 1953, Jason Bourne in 1980, and Jack Bauer in 2002ish.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2012


Dr. Buzz Stryker from General Hospital seems to hold the non-parody record.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2012


Don't forget the international wizarding man of mystery, Jarry Botter.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:46 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you noticed the JB trend for superspy names?
James Bond
Jason Bourne
Jack Bauer
er...
That's it.


Jeb Bush blew it when he chose politics.
posted by arcticseal at 10:46 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Warning: TV Tropes link: some names are just inherantly cool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:46 AM on November 16, 2012


I enjoyed the movie Flight, but almost skipped seeing it because the lead character was named Whip Whitaker.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:46 AM on November 16, 2012


A friend of mine cane up with Dwight Wombat, loosely based on Snake Pliskin, and that guy has been inhabiting test data for websites I've worked on ever since...
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on November 16, 2012


Angus Thermopyle
Sorus Chatelaine
Vector Shaheed
Hashi Lebwohl

It's not the best real story, but the character names are compelling.
posted by Mblue at 10:47 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the MST3K standout was "Gristle McThornbody."

Also, does anyone remember the literary term for a name that reflects the personality of the character? I've always seen it referenced w/r/t Dickens. I am almost entirely there's a word for it outside of "characteronym" and "Cratylic."
posted by griphus at 10:48 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: "I enjoyed the movie Flight, but almost skipped seeing it because the lead character was named Whip Whitaker"

His name is William Whitaker, "Whip" is his nickname.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:51 AM on November 16, 2012


Do you find it...wisible...when I say the name...Biggus...Dickus?
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:51 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:51 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't even notice that none of the characters in Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland had names (they're all "the librarian," "the colonel," "grandpa") until I was describing a part of it to someone.

Overuse of epithets fills me with a rage that cannot be textually rendered.
posted by elizardbits at 10:52 AM on November 16, 2012


elizardbits: "Overuse of epithets fills me with a rage that cannot be textually rendered."

That's ok, Rages-against-epithets.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:54 AM on November 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


I have spent hours researching names for historical uses, literary allusions, memetic significance, only to realize no one ever notices anyway.

So now I just crib from people around me.
posted by The Whelk at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2012


His name is William Whitaker, "Whip" is his nickname.

That doesn't really matter, since everyone in the movie refers to him as Whip and even the credits list him as Whip. Good movie though.


Names are logos and company names. The specifics tend not to matter, it's that actions that make the name.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:57 AM on November 16, 2012


Gussie Fink-Nottle

If I spent a lifetime trying to come up with a name that conveys "man who feels strongly about newts", I could do no better.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:57 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


So now I just crib from people around me.

The Adventures Starbuck Doctorwho Wardrobe.
posted by griphus at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2012


I see you've met Mr. Tablet Playingcard
posted by The Whelk at 11:01 AM on November 16, 2012


If the spy had been called James Brown, would that have helped or hindered the musician's career?

shtay on the sheen

like a shex machine

posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:03 AM on November 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Have you noticed the JB trend for superspy names?
James Bond
Jason Bourne
Jack Bauer
er...
That's it.


I can neither confirm nor deny that Josiah Bartlett is the civilian cover name given to Benjamin Willard after his mission to *****REDACTED*****.
posted by juv3nal at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2012


Overuse of epithets fills me with a rage that cannot be textually rendered.

Stay away from Doctor Who, then. They never use that guy's name.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2012


Here is the story of my first crush! When I was a young 'un, I used to see old reruns of Bewitched. I had a huge little boy non-sexual (more or less, I guess) crush on Elizabeth Montgomery, who played Samantha Stevens. She could do magic! She was pretty! She helped her stupid husband out on the sly! She was a smart, funny super-mom who could fly and turn people into toads. And her name sounded EXACTLY right for a sexy suburban witch.

Anyway. Later in life, I found myself using the name "Samantha Stevens" as a stand-in for any female character whose name I hadn't settled on yet.
posted by Mister_A at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2012


I'm re-reading a bunch of classique science fiction (the weirdo time-travel, red-baiting, psyche-animal-talking Andre Norton, if you must know) and the question of how authors choose character names keeps coming up in my mind.

Plate of shrimp?
posted by clvrmnky at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


HAL
WOPR
Skynet




Marvin
posted by Mblue at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see you've met Mr. Tablet Playingcard

Tablet Playingcard, wasn't he a blackjack dealer at Casino Hermann Goering?
posted by Lorin at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2012


My extremely lazy bad habit is looking at my book shelf for author names to steal.
posted by brundlefly at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2012


Also, I'm a big fan of "Dirk Pitt", as it gives you a pretty good idea of what kind of book you're reading.
posted by brundlefly at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe a fun reverse game would be to ascribe personalities to names to see if they matched the author's intent. From a recent fantasy novel of mine.

Cyril Crumm
Philamena Dunwick
Benny Ayala
Vitch
Derwood Fudge
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:15 AM on November 16, 2012


'He Looks Like A 'Bob'' Is True: "Researchers at Miami University think they know why you can remember some peoples’ names but not others’. They’ve shown quantitatively that certain names are associated with certain facial features. For example, when people hear the name “Bob” they have in mind a larger, round face than when they hear a name such as “Tim” or “Andy.” Robin Thomas, associate professor of psychology, and colleagues not only show that this link exists, but they also show that if people try to learn face-name pairs that go against their expectations, they have a hard time doing it."

See also the bouba/kiki effect.
posted by flex at 11:16 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


brundlefly: "Also, I'm a big fan of "Dirk Pitt", as it gives you a pretty good idea of what kind of book you're reading"

"Pitt" is also reasonably close to a slang term for penis in both Swedish and Spanish, so there's that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:16 AM on November 16, 2012


I think Philip Marlowe is an amazingly good name. There's this hint of haunted sadness and longing, it's also very masculine, but it seems plausible, a name that someone might actually use.
posted by Mister_A at 11:16 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pussy Galore
and Honey Ryder, Plenty O'Toole, Holly Goodhead. But especially Pussy Galore.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:17 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anne Uumellmahaye
posted by Mister_A at 11:18 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Peter Parker
Clark Kent
Matt Murdock
Bruce Banner
Susan Storm
etc.....

Best: Ben Grimm
posted by Mblue at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2012


And let's not forget the fabulous Modesty Blaise
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2012


Have you noticed the JB trend for superspy names?
James Bond
Jason Bourne
Jack Bauer


I can't remember where I saw this, but supposedly those were the internal descriptions for the three dialogue types in Alpha Protocol. (Interesting game in places, but very obviously rushed)

I kinda appreciated it that much more after realizing that. It makes sense.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2012


ROWSDOWER!
posted by pxe2000 at 11:24 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rowsdower is that a ......stupid name?
posted by The Whelk at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you noticed the JB trend for superspy names?
James Bond
Jason Bourne
Jack Bauer


...

"Pitt" is also reasonably close to a slang term for penis in both Swedish and Spanish, so there's that.

Something that blew my mind is that in German, Bauer is the word for a farmer/peasant, or a 'common man'. The etymology of Jack also descends from similar terminology, having connotations of 'common'.

Which means that 'Jack Bauer' comes out as 'the common man's common man.'
posted by mikurski at 11:31 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


isn't that right Billy Everyteen?
posted by The Whelk at 11:31 AM on November 16, 2012


The protagonist of my new novel is called Shazbat McMaster.
posted by Mister_A at 11:32 AM on November 16, 2012


I read a lot of romance novels, where character names can be unutterably ridiculous. Dukes named Hawk, cowboys named Colt, and spies with code names like Lone Wolf are common. I mostly only notice them when they're over the top in their dumbness.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


jacquilynne: "I read a lot of romance novels, where character names can be unutterably ridiculous. Dukes named Hawk, cowboys named Colt, and spies with code names like Lone Wolf are common. I mostly only notice them when they're over the top in their dumbness"

So, those examples are not over the top? Now I'm curious.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:40 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shitty thriller writer Vince Flynn writes about a conservative super-spy named Mitch Rapp. I only know this from reading over a guy's shoulder on a bored-as-hell-can't-sleep redeye flight. The book was so preposterously bad I almost wanted to buy it!
posted by Mister_A at 11:43 AM on November 16, 2012


What if, after James Bond defeated Goldfinger, he was given the nickname "Gold Bond"?

Or what if James Bond screwed up once and was given the nickname "Junk Bond"?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:44 AM on November 16, 2012


Neal Stephenson stabbed this one on in the heart, though, in his book "Snow Crash."

The main character's name is Hiro Protagonist.

He carries a sword and delivers pizza by day, but in the Metaverse (worldwide social virtual reality), he's a Samurai.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:48 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, by the way, the linked review is an excellent read! I doubt they will have the book at my library but I'll try.
posted by Mister_A at 11:49 AM on November 16, 2012


I think early exposure to too much pomo fiction has completely broken my recognition of what names are and aren't silly. I mean, when you're used to stuff like Manny DiPresso and Judith Prietht it takes something amazingly stupid to make a lasting impression.
posted by Merzbau at 11:51 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a trend in late 19th, early 20th century fiction that I always found curious:

Authors referring to characters as "Mr. S___", etc.

posted by mmrtnt at 11:56 AM on November 16, 2012


I've come to notice that YA fiction (contemporary realistic) has an absolute surfeit of a certain type of names: names that are perfectly balanced between trendy and obscure, and that are slightly tomboyish for girl main characters. Cameron. Colby. Polly. They're nice names, the kind of names you'd want to name your own kids, and then you realize that the names in YA have absolutely nothing to do with what people actually were naming their kids in the mid-1990s.
posted by Jeanne at 12:00 PM on November 16, 2012


Also, I've never met anyone named "Fenton" and it's SUCH a cool name

posted by mmrtnt at 12:02 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fenton?

We named the dog Fenton.
posted by The Whelk at 12:05 PM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


There was a trend in late 19th, early 20th century fiction that I always found curious:

Authors referring to characters as "Mr. S___", etc.


It's a trope that's about nodding towards authenticity i.e. as if those were the names of real people that a reader might recognize if they had not been redacted. Kind of the same thing as "Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent" from Dragnet.
posted by juv3nal at 12:06 PM on November 16, 2012


I wrote a short story a few years ago that was set several decades in the future. All my writing group peers complained about the name of the protagonist, a woman in her fifties: Caitlin. "She sounds like a kid!" "Well, yeah, because she was born right about now, when we name kids things like Caitlin."

My reasoning was sound but I couldn't sway any of them.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 12:11 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


My reasoning was sound but I couldn't sway any of them.

Charlie
Zoe
Justin

I just covered a century.
posted by Mblue at 12:17 PM on November 16, 2012


So, those examples are not over the top? Now I'm curious.

Lone Wolf was actually from a novel of great badness, and I mocked that code name roundly to friends while I read it. (The good thing about cheesy romance novels is that even when they're bad, they're still entertaining.)

Hawk and Colt are arguably middle of the road choices for romance novel leads. Could be 'this is mildly cheesy but okay', could be 'oh, god, the cheeeeeeeese', depending on last name and other context.

Though, I have to admit, as a caveat to my criticism of romance novel names, when I tried to write a romance novel, I named my male lead Lance Marshall. So, you know, do as I say and not as I do, apparently.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:19 PM on November 16, 2012


In those days you could get away with calling a character Pussy Galore.

Apparently the character was based on the love of Fleming's life.
posted by philipy at 12:25 PM on November 16, 2012


We named the dog Fenton.

Fenton was the Hardy Boy's dad.

Yes. I'm old.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:26 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article's failure to mention the Song of Ice and Fire series is criminal. GRRM's greatest gift to literature is his character names.
posted by cthuljew at 12:27 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The main character's name is Hiro Protagonist.

He carries a sword and delivers pizza by day, but in the Metaverse (worldwide social virtual reality), he's a Samurai.


And his companion in the story is a super-cool bad-ass skateboarding courier with a ton of other self-insert characteristics, including the ability to do anything as long as it's awesome, named Yours Truly.
posted by Spatch at 12:29 PM on November 16, 2012


Apparently the character was based on the love of Fleming's life.

...who happened to be an overweight Maine Coon.
posted by griphus at 12:29 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's something specially annoying about the names in Iris Murdoch's late novels. Jenkin Riderhood. Duncan Cambus. Gulliver Ashe. Gideon Fairfax. Ursula Brightwalton. AAAAGH MAKE IT STOP

But this thread wouldn't be complete without a reference to Mr Justice Cocklecarrot and the case of the twelve red-bearded dwarfs:

The court had to be cleared owing to the roars of ribald laughter which greeted the appearance in the witness-box of the twelve red-bearded dwarfs all in a heap. Their names were read out amid growing uproar. The names appeared to be: Sophus Barkayo-Tong, Amaninter Axling, Farjole Merrybody, Guttergorm Guttergormpton, Badly Oronparser, Churm Rincewind, Cleveland Zackhouse, Molonay Tubilderborst, Edeledel Edel, Scorpion de Rooftrouser, Listenis Youghaupt, Frums Gillygottle.

Cocklecarrot: Are these genuine names?
A Dwarf: No, m'worship.
Cocklecarrot: Then what's your name?
Dwarf: Bogus, m'ludship.
Cocklecarrot: No, your real name.
Dwarf: My real name is Bogus, your excellency.

(At this point the court had to be cleared)

posted by verstegan at 12:37 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


In those days you could get away with calling a character Pussy Galore.

You have to hide the sex now. Next James Bond girl? Bisquet Teatime.
posted by Mblue at 12:40 PM on November 16, 2012


Also, does anyone remember the literary term for a name that reflects the personality of the character?

Aptronym?
posted by Iridic at 12:43 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


In casino royale Veser scoffs at her cover name, " broadchest".
posted by The Whelk at 12:44 PM on November 16, 2012


Next James Bond girl? Bisquet Teatime.

Please don't do that to my head.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:48 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dwarf: My real name is Bogus, your excellency.

Lou Costello's estate will be suing shortly.
posted by Mblue at 12:49 PM on November 16, 2012


mmrtnt: "There was a trend in late 19th, early 20th century fiction that I always found curious:

Authors referring to characters as "Mr. S___", etc.
"

This comes up in Ask Metafilter periodically: 1, 2.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:49 PM on November 16, 2012


Warning: TV Tropes link: some names are just inherantly cool.

Nobody snuggles with Max Power, you strap yourself in and feel the G's.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:54 PM on November 16, 2012


"The other thing David - that's my brother - says about him is that he has the absolute perfect bestseller's name."

"Really?" said Dirk. "In what way?"

"David says it's the first thing any publisher looks for in a new author. Not, `Is his stuff any good?' or, `Is his stuff any good once you get rid of all the adjectives?' but, `Is his last name nice and short and his first name just a bit longer?' You see? The `Bell' is done in huge silver letters, and the `Howard' fits neatly across the top in slightly narrower ones. Instant trademark. It's publishing magic. Once you've got a name like that then whether you can actually write or not is a minor matter."
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
posted by Chrysostom at 12:56 PM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


I had a great-great-great-aunt whose married name was Temperance Brewer.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 12:56 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


I love the scene in Boogie Nights where Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly pitch their action porn movie idea to Burt Reynolds in a limo, and tell him that their characters' names are Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell. And Reynolds laughs and says they're great names.
posted by good in a vacuum at 12:59 PM on November 16, 2012


Angola Maldives was on another mission. A bad guy intends to blow up the sun!
posted by hap_hazard at 1:08 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ellery Queen, which does double-duty as pseudonym and detective, has always been one of my favorite literary names--it sounds slightly chilly, for some reason, and feels suitable for a mystery novel.

Ozias Midwinter (from Wilkie Collins' Armadale) has a certain ring to it, though.

Also, let's all thank Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for recognizing that "John Watson" was a much better name for his "normal" narrator than was Ormond Sacker.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:15 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Out of all the trashy, paranormal romances I read, my favorite character name is Kitty Norville. Because her name is Kitty...

And she's a werewolf.

Pure genius.
posted by teleri025 at 1:32 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dukes named Hawk

I know exactly which book you reference and I regret nothing.
posted by elizardbits at 2:06 PM on November 16, 2012


My daughter's been playing a virtual family game on the iPad in which the baby is named Dur. I looked it up to find that it is (at least according to the interwebs) a Hebrew name meaning "accumulating" which I suppose somehow makes sense in the context of the game. Yet nonetheless a befuddling choice.
posted by gubenuj at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2012


there's a formula for creating names for the Hero in a romance novel
First name = a weapon or a synonym for "Hard"
Last name = Geographical Outcropping + Predatory animal

Blade Ravenscroft
Lance Wolfriver
Stark Montstallion
posted by ohshenandoah at 3:26 PM on November 16, 2012


Rigid Badgerpoint
posted by Wolfdog at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hm.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2012


Club Foxbutte.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:47 PM on November 16, 2012


(Catch phrase: "I told you, it's pronounced BYOOT.")
posted by Wolfdog at 3:49 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sickle Jackalstack!
posted by Wolfdog at 4:04 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm starting to think I should check out the romance section at the library; this all sounds great.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:05 PM on November 16, 2012


Stone Leopardplateau
posted by danb at 4:06 PM on November 16, 2012


That one's kind of ridiculous.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:09 PM on November 16, 2012


No mention of Annie "Yes, I also wrote 'Brokeback Mountain'" Proulx? The dramatis personae of The Shipping News alone is enough to inspire disbelief: Tert Card! PETAL BEAR!! WAVEY PROWSE!!! Ahem.

I enjoyed the movie Flight, but almost skipped seeing it because the lead character was named Whip Whitaker.

Which reminded me of this.

Also, I just saw a short play wherein a robot, upon given consciousness, decided (to her handler's horror) to name herself Dr. Vulnavia Flamecabinet, which is ten types of amazing. Say it out loud. Try not to laugh.
posted by psoas at 4:09 PM on November 16, 2012


I should have gone with Firm Foxbutte.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:12 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hugh Person (corrupted "Peterson" and pronounced "Parson" by some) extricated his angular bulk from the taxi

Nabakov having some fun naming his character in Transparent Things.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:25 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are we really not going to discuss Harry Potter? I mean, Rowling basically named a character Werewolf von Werewolf.
posted by nonasuch at 4:42 PM on November 16, 2012


Erect Moosecliff
posted by elizardbits at 4:49 PM on November 16, 2012


Artw: "A friend of mine cane up with Dwight Wombat, loosely based on Snake Pliskin, and that guy has been inhabiting test data for websites I've worked on ever since..."

I recently made a short film involving a Snake Plissken ripoff named "Tank Flintlock".
posted by brundlefly at 5:02 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"She sounds like a kid!" "Well, yeah, because she was born right about now, when we name kids things like Caitlin."

A friend's nine-year-old niece recently declared that Jennifer and Heather are old-lady names.
posted by tangerine at 5:06 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rigid Badgerpoint has filled me with all the glee.
posted by Occula at 5:38 PM on November 16, 2012


When I was fourteen or so and writing fantasy novels - well, the beginnings of fantasy novels, a tendency that has persisted to this day - I used to use scrabble letters to come up with the names. Tzunl! Egnit! And of course, the inimitable Glnmprfx.

I had to put a paranormal romance down the other day because, I'm sorry, but I cannot read a book in which the protagonists (who I think are also vampires but I didn't get that far in) are named RuthLess and ValIant and so on. Rhage. Yeah, it's too much. Just call them Tim or something.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me, one of the major tells of amateurish, tone-deaf fiction is that everyone has these unrealistically super-anglo last names. Greenshaw, Woodbury, Hallton, etc. If every character in your story could also be the name of an English country village and you're not writing online erotica or a Hallmark Channel movie, reconsider.
posted by threeants at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of Evelyn Waugh's satirical names have aged poorly, but I do love the beautiful undertaker Aimée Thanatogenos in The Loved One, as well as the very dead-on names in Brideshead Revisited: the loyal daughter Cordelia, the Canadian power broker Rex Mottram, and the long-suffering and reality-fleeing Lord Sebastian Flyte.

E.M. Forster also nails it pretty often; Lucy Honeychurch, Adela Quested, Emily Failing, Cecil Vyse.
posted by thesmallmachine at 7:16 PM on November 16, 2012


What the Dickens?
posted by Artw at 7:19 PM on November 16, 2012


Whoever came up with 'Todd Packer' for Todd Packer in The Office earns lots of points.
posted by Anything at 7:20 PM on November 16, 2012


Anything: "Whoever came up with 'Todd Packer' for Todd Packer in The Office earns lots of points."

It was THIS GUY.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2012


We can add "onius" "ainious" or "anous" to justabout anything, and it becomes magical.

--Dr. Chevalier
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 7:43 PM on November 16, 2012


Constantine Quiche, the best detective in the world, in R.A. Lafferty's 'Apocalypses.'
Here's a real one from the paper: "Dutch" Ruppersberger, congressman from Maryland.
posted by key_of_z at 8:41 PM on November 16, 2012


Also, I've never met anyone named "Fenton" and it's SUCH a cool name

I'm teaching english in China and across all my classes I have about ten kids with "Fenton" as an english name. Also a disturbing number of Mintons. I think there are two somewhat common Chinese given names that sound close to them.
posted by Rinku at 1:14 AM on November 17, 2012


I have a text file where I collect my favorite ridiculous names for people and places in Henry James stories. He's an absolute treasure trove:

Amy Frush, Bessie Mangler, Lady Augusta Minch, Mildred Theory, Fleda Vetch, Weeks Wimbush, the Thrupp Apartments, Rosanna Gaw ... and of course the immortal Gwendolyn Ambient, from "The Author of 'Beltraffio'", aunt of Dolcino. His notebooks were full of unused names, all likewise bizarre: Alan Wrencher, the town of Mockbeggar, Wentworth Hench, Tagus Shout, the butler Twentyman, Vizard, Lucy Curd, Haughty Crimper, Kate Shimple, the town of Voyd ...
posted by finnb at 6:43 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Dickens indeed. But then, he took care to find out real life oddball names. (So too Wodehouse, of course.) Among my real life favorites is Learned Hand - he comes out of the Puritan tradition of giving the infants attributional names the parents hoped would stick. Constance, Charity, Kill-Sin, Fly-Fornication, that sort of thing.

And speaking of parents, what were Mr and Mrs Blitzer thinking?

"Wayne: Okay, Worst Name. CNN Pentagon Correspondent, Wolf Blitzer? Shyeah, right!
Garth: It's so obvious the guy made it up for the war!
Wayne: Yeah! I know, it's like, "Hi, we now take you to our War Correspondent, Howitzer Explosion Guy."

posted by BWA at 10:16 AM on November 17, 2012


In the matter of names, Pterry is king:

Mrs. Marietta Cosmopilite
Adora Belle Dearheart (also known as Spike and Killer)
Moist von Lipwig
Cheery Littlebottom
Nobby Nobbs
Lord Havelock Vetinari
Samuel Vimes
Willikins, Butler to Samuel Vimes
William de Worde
Rob Anybody
Casanunda
Legitimate First
Reacher Gilt
Gimlet Gimlet
All Jolson
Lu-Tze (also known as Sweeper)
Lacrimosa de Magpyr
Lady Margolotta
Horace Nancyball
A.E. Pessimal
Windle Poons
Verity Pushpram
Inigo Skimmer
Glenda Sugarbean
Findthee Swing
Buggy Swires
Goodie Whemper
Arthur Winkings (also known as Count Notfaroutoe)
Doreen Winkings (also known as Countess Notfaroutoe)
posted by BlueHorse at 7:07 PM on November 17, 2012


"No mention of Annie "Yes, I also wrote 'Brokeback Mountain'" Proulx? The dramatis personae of The Shipping News alone is enough to inspire disbelief: Tert Card! PETAL BEAR!! WAVEY PROWSE!!! Ahem."

Well, sure, the characters sound like they could be Puritans, but that's what Proulx wants to evoke -- that particular subculture of Newfoundland. She's obviously very deliberate about it: in a book that uses knots as a running theme, the protagonist's name is a pun on one.

Besides, going through life with a surname like Proulx probably desensitizes you to their improbability.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 9:17 PM on November 17, 2012


Yes, I love the names in the Shipping News!

May I add, China Miéville? (Anti?)heroine "Bellis Coldwine" has one of my favoritest literary names ever, but all of his character names are great. And speaking of authors whose names begin with "M" and end in "ville," how about Melville? "Moby Dick" is a fever dream of deliciously bizarre and perfect names.

For ohshenandoah's romantic hero formula, I present you with Master Catapult Poodlepeak.

Nunchuck Bluffskunk? Rocky Humpdingo? Nightstick Knollhare? Am I doing this right?
posted by taz at 6:51 AM on November 18, 2012


Blunderbuss Deinonychuspromontory?
posted by juv3nal at 1:30 PM on November 18, 2012


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