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December 20, 2011


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This may be the first time I have ever disagreed with one of your posts.

How very Hollywood it is to suggest that a play, movie or book is wrong if it doesn't use trendy names.

Shall we avoid names like Holden, Rhett, Scarlett, Forrest, Hannibal, Atticus, Sherlock, Queequeg, Rincewind, Westley, Inigo Montoya, Milo Minderbinder, Nero Wolfe?

Was "Pulp Fiction" spoiled by having a Jules and a Butch?

Must we look forward to a literature full of Krystyles and Brandons, Olivias and Ethans?

And let's lose the dogs like Asta and Toto, Snoopy and Rin Tin Tin, Beethoven and Snowy. Better to go with Buddy, Lucky, Molly, Max, and other loaves of white bread.

Give me the memorable names, please, and plenty of them.

My son has a classmate named Allen, which sounds so anachronistic. You're in sixth grade! Who gave you that name?

Granted, most of the kids in his school don't have names that top the Baby Name Voyager standings (it's crazy diverse—Taofeeq, Phuong, Nashiya, Aminat, Syeda, Ngozi, Armina, Sahinub, anyone?) but their names aren't ones that belong to Americans in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

That makes me crazy too, when a character is too old to have such a "new" name.

However, my 21-year-old nephew Alessandro goes by "Al." He has an Italian father and an American mother, was raised in London, and now is a drummer at Berklee, so go figure.

@Tim: You're right, and the post is also right. The choice of a name is ideally meant to say something about who that character is. And just as you wouldn't write about a wizard from Discworld and name him "Zachary," you wouldn't write about a Brooklyn yuppie baby and name her "Courtney." It's wrong for the character, not wrong in some general sense.

Or, think of it this way: names are like props and costumes in a movie. You want them to support the scene and the characters, and not be anachronistic. You could argue that naming a character "Jeffrey" is the onomastic equivalent of dressing him like a character from Happy Days: appropriate when it's appropriate, but not for present-day settings.

Agree, Nema. In the end it's about whether you want the name to be remembered or invisible. Which is what Fritinancy is all about.

@Tim: In my attempt to be concise I failed to make my point clearly enough. And now @NevaVeze has said pretty much what I planned to say.

I wasn't advocating for "trendy" names--only for names that are appropriate for what the writer is attempting to say. Sometimes a memorable name is indeed anachronistic--the title character in "Forever Amber," Kathleen Winsor's wildly successful novel, set in 1660--comes to mind. But most of the time, a writer chooses a name to express character or make a point about social status, cultural milieu, and so on.

I could accept one teen character named Al OR Ed OR Joan if that name had a plausible story behind it. (Karen's Alessandro-to-Al story is perfect.) But three characters with anachronistic names? I'm skeptical.

By the way, I have the same response when I hear anachronistic dialogue in movies and TV shows. In the final episode of "Boardwalk Empire," which is set in 1921, one of the characters says something like "Bottom line, we're going to do it." "Bottom line" wasn't a popular idiom in the US until the late 1960s. The writer should have done his homework.

@Tim: Fictional names don't need to be memorable; they need to *fit*: the setting, the era, the character's personality.

I had no problem with the anachronistic part, but it came across to me as not only avoiding anachronistic names, but also preferring the period's fashionable names.

Surely that's no more of a misread than is seeing me as furious when I am nothing of the sort.

Can't comment on the rest of the names, but MAYBE this is finally the resurgence of the name Nancy that I've been lobbying for, Nancy!

I remember a book where an adopted girl named Lauren (with a brother Rory, which I liked) tracked down her birth family and biological sisters Madison and Shelby. She found that her name was originally Martha, a name I love but that doesn't fit at all! Grr.

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