For some writers (not me) the perfect name is crucial: a story cannot be written without the right name. For others, names are often placeholders to refer to a character until something wittier is procured. (Again, not me.) But everyone has a process. Every genre has its conventions. Our processes, our naming methodologies, separate us each a little but from other writers.
Names are important.
Because, respect for Shakespeare aside, Mr. Bob Carpenter is not the same as Mr. Sebastian Chester Tippeny. A woman with kids might eat at Sticky Fingers Bakery, but not Esteban's Fine Dining. Done well, names are an effective asset. In the debut novel Warped, the author did a great job using names to different the character's respective time periods. Tessa is from modern day Oregon. William de Chaucy is from 16th century Cornwall. With names alone, Maurissa Guibord shows us the conflict between these two characters.
Now, switching gears here from writer to reader: as a reader, I like a name that fits into the tone and feeling of the story, that feels appropriate. When I read fantasy, I can work with names like Illeya and Kikulv, even if I could never pronounce them. When I read about a little girl in the midwest, names like Sally Ann and Joe Bob work just fine.
Which brings me to my actual question. How obvious--or subtle--should names be?
There's a rising trend in YA (especially YA with paranormal elements) to give main characters and love-interests exotic, tantalizing, and knock-you-flat-suggestive names. Here are a few that really struck me, along with an excerpt of their Goodreads blurb:
Skye in A Beautiful Dark -- "Torn between unpredictable Asher, whom she loves, and the infuriating Devin, who she can’t stay away from, her fate is murky as a starless night. And as the secrets of her true identity are revealed, Skye realizes that her destiny may reside in the Heavens—or somewhere darker."
Ashlinne Wilde in Wildefire -- "Ashline Wilde never received an instruction manual on how to be a 16-year-old Polynesian volcano goddess...With a war between the gods looming over Blackwood, Ash must master the fire smoldering within her before she clashes with her sister [Eve] one final time"
Ade Patience in Future Imperfect -- "Ade Patience can see the future and it's destroying his life. When the seventeen-year-old Mantlo High School student knocks himself unconscious, he can see days and decades into his own future"
Gaia Stone in Birthmarked -- "After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects." (Let me note that Gia, or Gaia, or any of it's alternatives is an old term for Earth.)
Clarity Fern in Clarity -- "Clarity 'Clare' Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It's a gift. And a curse."
Eden in A Touch Mortal -- "trapped between life and death, cursed to spread chaos with her every touch, Eden could be the key in the eternal struggle between heaven and hell. All because she gave her heart to one of the Fallen, an angel cast out of heaven."
Mind you, the only novel that I've read from this list was Clarity, and the author did a splendid job hanging a lantern on the name Clarity and making it a completely plausible part of the story. But this trend makes me squirm. It reminds me of those early novels we all have, where the character is named something screamingly obvious--a rebellious teenager named Rebel (Reb for short, so no one knows!) or an identity-changing character named Shadow. Etc etc. I'm not trying to criticize this trend--I mean, hey, those last two examples were mine. But I am trying to analyze it, and I'm curious what everyone else thinks. So...
Have you guys noticed the "obvious" name trend in YA? What do you think--good or bad? As readers, where do you like to see this balanced, and as writers, how do you go about balancing it?
Truly and always,