I’m pretty sure it started in earnest with The Hunger Games – Katniss? Really? Gale (for a boy) and Peeta? Still, there’s something so sincerely whackadoodle about the names in the HG trilogy that I can’t really object. It’s obviously the kind of dystopian world wherein people choose weirdly familiar and yet not quite sensible names. Haymitch? Come on.
But it’s clearly become a thing. In recent YA we have, among the girls: Rhine, Aria, Gaia, Cassia, Puck, Trella, Katla, Pressia, and Ever. You get the picture. All pretty names on their own, but when lumped together begin to sound like a preschool play date in Kitsilano, circa 2008.
The boys, in many ways, come off much worse., Cricket? Patch? These are names for Webkinz, not heroes. Nailer? Elder? Four? What the hell is going on here? Are authors mixing up their baby name books with their dictionaries?
Listen, I get what is at the heart of this trend. There are a few things at play here. One simplistic thing is that writers simply use names that they like. Maybe they use names that they might have thought of for their own children, had not their spouse put the kibosh on them. Another reason is that some authors, myself included, simply “see” their characters with that name, no matter how silly, and it sticks.
But I can’t help feeling this is partly a marketing thing too. It’s partly a hope that the name might one day be entered into the OED, like scrooge or shylock. Bella n. 1. a weak insipid girl 2. A pregnancy characterized by severe anemia. Katniss n. 1. A woman with an uncontrollable urge to kill the man she loves. 2. A bow and arrow designed for use by female archers.
It’s partly so that when people discuss the books, the characters can be referred to by their first name and EVERYONE will know who is being invoked. “I hated the heroine though, she was so weak. I wish she had been more like Rhine” etc. I get hits on this blog nearly every single day for “Katniss”. She’s a brand name for dog’s sake.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: It. Has. Got. To. Stop. (Separating a sentence like that has got to stop too, but that’s another battle for another day).
So here’s my suggestion, and it’s a neat one because it solves another pressing issue in YA, that of the lack of characters of color: use non Eurocentric names. Huh? Huh?
WICKET SEASON, out this month has a friend/rival called Deepa. In AUDACIOUS, out fall 2013, the love interest is named Samir. Think of the possibilities for girls: Asuka (Japanese) Ululani (Hawaiian) or Jia Li (Chinese). These are great evocative names that sound like kick-butt heroines to me.
And for boys: Roshan (Persian), Arkady (Russian) or Jimoh (Swahili), don’t they all sound tough but sensitive, and most importantly, hot?
So here’s a little challenge. Find me some books with heroes and heroines with non-Euro names, especially if those characters are from a non-Euro culture. Best comment will receive a copy of WICKET SEASON.