The Love For Unlikely Names

Hello My name is

A few weeks back I was lurking around on a fantasy forum and reading a post about Hounacier’s release.  One commenter stated that while he liked the concept of the story, he hated the name Matt Hollis. They went on to state that Matt Hollis would be the name of a garbage man or some office worker, and that they just couldn’t believe that a badass demon hunter would have such a blasé name.

My response was a simple eye-roll without comment.  Can’t please everyone, right?  However, the idea that our badass heroes are expected…nay…REQUIRED to have equally badass names stuck with me.  I mean, how many heroes have sweet, sweet names?

As an author, the task of choosing the perfect name for a character can be very stressful. I mean, we get to name them anything and we want it to be something that fits them.  We want a name that potential readers will see and instantly think, “Badass.”

 While the first names can be real short and basic, like something from a Dashiell Hammett crime novel – Jack, Nick, Sam, or Frank – sometimes they can also have some of those end of the alphabet letters, such as Xavier, Zane, or Vince.  Those are all real names. I’ve known someone named each of those. But the real kicker is in the last name.  A perfect last name is usually a word with a double meaning – Cross, Knight, Steele, Reaper, Fury, Cage, Thorn, Castle, Crow.  Colors are also good – Grey, Black, Scarlet, even White (But as Steve Buscemi will tell you, Pink just isn’t as cool.)

Fictional characters aren’t the only ones with cool names.  Many actors change their names to something more punchy (Did you really think his name was Nick Cage? Did you not read the formula above?).  And not just Hollywood actors either, porn stars have some spectacularly unlikely names. 

Personally for me, I don’t like names like that.  They feel fake. They feel forced or just full of themselves.  I think of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Robin asks Azeem if he gave himself that name.  Of better yet, the scene in Mystery Men when Monica asks what Mister Furious’ real name is.

Mystery Men Roy

 I write fantasy. My goal is to make you believe on some level that magic, monsters, and convenient circumstances are all perfectly believable.  Suspension of Disbelief is a finite resource, and I’d rather not waste it by giving my characters names that are only slightly more likely than the fantastical things that they do.  (At least Harry Dresden has a perfectly good in-story reason for his name).  My biggest goal when naming Matt, Allan, Luiza, or any of my other characters*, was that they were believable.  My second goal was the names weren’t already taken by some real-life celebrity or ruthless criminal that I wasn’t aware of.

I’d always thought that unlikely names were acceptable only for comic book or James Bond characters. Evidently I was wrong.  To each their own.

 So, what’s your favorite unlikely character name? 


*Except Malcolm…I named him after my favorite space cowboy, I totally admit it.


2 thoughts on “The Love For Unlikely Names

  1. How is James Bond for blase’? Take away everything you associate with that name. You are Ian Fleming coming up with a badass name for your secret agent. james…bond…really? I think the name is less important than the character that causes the name to be remembered, but that’s likely, just me.

    1. The legend that I heard was that Flemming was sitting there, trying to come up with a name, and read the author names on some shelved books by his desk. He combined two names into James Bond and ta-da. But you’re right, it’s a very basic name. A spy’s name should be. Bond Girls/Villians on the other hand….different story 🙂

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