I’ve been thinking about character names having recently tried to complete this surprisingly difficult Sporcle quiz. (Do you Sporcle? You should. Unless you feel the internet already provides too many distractions, in which case do not click that under any circumstances.) There are so many associations people have with certain names—some predictable, if they’re the names of famous people or popular characters in books, TV shows, and movies, and others just because of people they happen to know. I grew up under the impression that Lauren was not a terribly popular name since I never seemed to see it in books or hear it on TV—not uncommon, mind you, but rarer than the seemingly omnipresent Laura—but I now know that I was wrong since it was exceedingly popular when I was born. In the last few years, I’ve come to associate my own name with a rather unfortunate type of person, thanks in no small part to Lauren Conrad. After she came on the scene, suddenly it seemed that that was what a Lauren was and every time a Lauren cropped up anywhere, she was kind of awful. Similarly, Bella has always been one of my favorite names and was up until recently the name that I had always said I’d give a theoretical future daughter, but that’s out now, because I wouldn’t want people thinking I’d named this imaginary hypothetical child after Twilight—which surely plenty of people are doing—since if people are going to make name-based assumptions, I’d rather they be the ones I’m actually aiming for. I wouldn’t be opposed to naming children after literary characters, but I’d be selecting them pretty carefully, and I don’t think Ms. Swan would make the cut.
When I read, though, I’m also bringing those opinions to bear. I think part of my attachment to 1984 initially sprung from my fondness for the name Julia. Reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, for about half the book, I had trouble realigning my impression of Bridgets from the Bridget I grew up with to Bridget Jones—they couldn’t be more different. Jo March was an early favorite because my grandmother is Josephine, but I’ve long had to resist holding Amy March against people I meet named Amy.
So tell me, authors, do you find yourself deliberating about the associations you have with names you might give your characters? Do you ever name anyone after people you know, but then feel odd about making that character go through something difficult? Do you worry that people you know will think you’re assigning their attributes to characters who happen to share their names? Or do you deliberately avoid names of anyone you actually know and anyone famous, so that the names don’t bring anything to the table? With so many names out there, how do you choose?