Friday, December 10, 2010

Repetitive Character Names

I used to have a character named Cathy. She was Cathy for two drafts, and then I changed her name. I don't like using clichés if I can avoid them, and variations of "Catherine" for a strong woman are certainly cliché.

Don't believe me?

  • Kitty Norville (Carrie Vaughn's novels)
  • Kate Beckett (Castle)
  • Ekaterin Vorkosigan (the Vorkosigan saga)
  • Katnis Everdeen (Hunger Games)
  • Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights)
  • Catherine Willows (CSI)
  • Kate Austen (Lost)
  • Kate Lockley (Angel)
  • Kate (Taming of the Shrew)
  • Kat Stratford (10 Things I Hate About You)
I'm sure there are many, many more but that's all I can think of right now. It's nearly as bad as leading women with red hair.

Of course, male characters don't escape the naming convention thing either. Remember than Jack is a diminutive of John, and…
  • Jack O'Neill (Stargate SG-1 and other)
  • John Sheppard (Stargate Atlantis)
  • Jack Harkness (Torchwood)
  • John Winchester (Supernatural)
  • Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • John Locke (Lost)
  • Jack Spratt (Jasper Fforde's novels, though he's alluding to nursery rhymes and probably doesn't count)
  • Ianto Jones (Torchwood)
  • Ivan Vorpatril (the Vorkosigan saga)
  • Johnny Mnemonic (movie of the same name) 
And again, I'm sure I'm forgetting people. Anyone want to weigh in with more characters? Other names this happens with? Or an explanation of why we get so many repeated names?


Max Gladstone said...

Good point on the Kates! I have a woman named Cat in my novel - a secondary character - who might belong on your list. I think that hard K is suggestive somehow to Anglophones - just like the K in Jack.

TV Tropes doesn't have a Kate page, but they do have a page for Jacks:

If this is a linguistic thing, though, I wouldn't be so quick to call it cliche. Not all tropes are bad, after all.

Woodge said...

Kate is definitely overused... and Jack to the point of ad nauseum. Here's a few additions for your list:

Katsa (Graceling by Kristin Cashore)
Catelyn Tully Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin)

John Matrix (Schwarzenegger in Commando)
John Corey (in several Nelson DeMille novels)
Jack Reacher (in about 16 novels by Lee Child)
Jon Snow (A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin)

Ev Bishop said...

I have a slightly different opinion--rather than feeling they're overused or tired, reading character names that are common in real life help characters seem authentic to me--and if the writing is strong, each "Kate" becomes her own woman. The list you provided is a case-in-point. Each one of those characters is unique, strong, _real_. I would never mix them up with each other or feel they were one and the same.

I can like interesting, slightly strange names too--but too odd a name can jump me out of a story for a few minutes, or worse, continue to feel contrived throughout the whole book.