An Open Letter On The Subject of Names

Dear Authors/Screenwriters/Tale-tellers of All Sorts:

I must begin with a confession: I have just met a character named Marmoset, and my life will never again be quite the same.

Why, you ask?

Why indeed.

Consider, dear storyfolk, that there is an art to the naming of characters. Names can be the cue that satire is upon us. They can foreshadow developments of dire importance. They can symbolize a culture or a world. They can connect up with a reader’s other ideas to generate an easy idea of the character, and thereby permit the author to skip over a certain amount of possibly tedious detail.

Good names ring. We who read remember them. “Sam Spade” is a detective’s name (as is “Miles Archer”). Every character in a Charles Dickens story has a name that does work in the story itself.

In some contexts, we expect certain kinds of naming to occur. Romance novel heroic naming conventions and fantasy novel heroic naming conventions sometimes overlap in their need to saddle characters with appropriately virile-sounding animal-related names. At times, the comedic value of such names takes on an additional layer of humor when the reader knows the tropes of the genre she reads especially well. We have codes for villains and for champions and for love interests galore (as in Pussy Galore — *sigh* Ian Fleming, ladies and gentlemen… master of the humor of recently pubescent boys and grown men who are perpetually adolescent in spirit). A name is a game the author can play with herself and with her readers.

This is why, beloved creators of story-content, you really must think carefully about names. Some Marmosets are perfectly good Marmosets — they are as they should be. Others, however, are not.

I leave it as an exercise to readers to figure out which is which once the damage is already done — but I beg you, tale-tellers, to consider our finer feelings beforehand.

Marmoset? Really?



About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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