Novel Thoughts: Unique Names in Literature

Posted by Jessi (Geo) on February 19, 2014 | 38 Comments


This topic was inspired by Angelfall, which had a name that annoyed me: Raffe. It was meant to be pronounced “rah-fee” (as in, short for Raphael), but every time I saw it my brain automatically read it as”rafe” (rhyming with waif). It bugged the crap out of me!! I had to make an actual effort to pronounce it the correct way, and it made my eye twitch.

With some books, it works. Actually, I quite like unique names, because it makes the character stand out. Best example: Katniss Everdeen. There’s no mistaking who I mean!

When it worked for me

  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Celaena & Chaol
  • Legend by Marie Lu: June & Day
  • Under the Never Sky by Veronica Ross: Aria is beautiful!
  • Splintered by A.G. Howard: Morpheus!
  • City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster: Nisha & JERRIT <3
  • Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris: Janelle is a pretty name.
  • The Ward by Jordana Frankel: Ren & Aven
  • Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton: Emotions are people. Fear <3
  • Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland: Zephyr & Whisper (they’re Harpies)
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski: Arin & Kestrel
  • Death Sworn by Leah Cypess: I love the name Sorin.
  • The Wayfarer Redemption Series by Sara Douglass: Zenith (which I named my dog after!), DragonStar & RiverStar, Axis, Azhure, Faraday, Caelum

When it didn’t work for me

  • Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick: I like this book, but Patch? Really? 
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth: Again, I like it, but I hated the names Tris and Tobias.
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano: Rhine makes me think of rind, like pork rind.
  • Splintered by A.G. Howard: Jeb. I hate that name!
  • The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett: Dusty. I think this is just personal for me because I knew a kid in HS with that name that was an ass to me haha.
  • Avalon by Mindee Arnett: Jeth…almost as bad as Jeb
  • Uninvited by Sophie Jordan: Davy? For a girl?
  • Death Sworn by Leah Cypess: Ileni. I just don’t like it…it has too many vowels or something!
  • I’ve never read the Harry Potter books, but I always hated the name Hermione! 

What about you guys? Are there any unique fictional names that you love or hate?

Jessi (Geo)

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38 responses to “Novel Thoughts: Unique Names in Literature

  1. I had the exact same issue with Raffe!!! There was a part in the book where Penryn made a funny about his name sounding life “raw feet” and ever since, when I pronounced his name, it came out sounding like “raw-fee” and it indeed bugged me to no end!

    I’m currently reading the Divergent series, and I actually really like the name Tris! (HATE Beatrice, though) And Tobias is pretty cool. I like the nicknames that were given (“Stiff”, “Four”, etc.).

    I’m trying REALLY hard to think of a book where the name really made an impression, but I’m coming up empty-handed…maybe because it’s past midnight :p Rain-check!

    • I’m glad it wasn’t just me!! I remember that…Ugh, why would you want your lead character’s name to sound like raw feet anyway?!

      I liked Four. But Tobias just irked me! It’s clunky and cumbersome, haha.

  2. Raffe was totally “Rafe” in my head, too. I could not make the proper pronunciation stick!

    I haven’t read a lot of the books you listed, but I agree that Rhine and Jeb are terrible! I like Jeb (the character) but his name is unfortunate.

    I do like unique names sometimes. If I can pronounce them easily and they’re not too crazy, they work. Otherwise it seems to me like the author was trying way too hard to make their character stand out.

  3. I usually don’t mind unique names, unless they are just a bizarre spelling of a normal name, like Caaryn instead of Karen or something like that. But I find I always pronounce unique names really bizarrely in my head and then when I try to talk to someone about the book in real life, they have no idea what I’m talking about.

    And Patch totally reminds me of a dog’s name.

  4. I pronounce Rafe the same way you do! I just can’t switch to rar-fee (my English accent is the reason behind the extra ‘r’). Patch is a hilarious name, it’s what you call puppies. I’m upset that you hate Hermione though. *cries* Everything about her is flawless.

  5. I love unique names as long as they actually make sense. I’ve had quite a lot of pronunciation problems with some of those names since I’m not a native I ALWAYS end up reading that name in my Indonesian pronunciation when I’ve never heard of it before >< Like Tobias, for example.

    One of the trends I've noticed recently is naming a female character with male names. Like Tyler for a girl in The Chaos of Our Stars (I'm not sure whether you find this unusual or not, but then again, I'm not a native lol). Also, there's Rowan in Me Since You and Kennedy in Unbreakable. I'm just so confused with names in YAs nowadays but oh wellzzz. O_O

    • I’m not a fan of naming girls boy names. Dusty drove me crazy! Rowan and Kennedy are FAR too many to be a girl’s name! If it’s not going to be ordinary, I want something pretty and easy like Aria!

  6. I haven’t read Splintered, but Morpheus! <3 Haha, Patch is a pretty cringe-worthy name and I always want to write Trish instead of Tris. Btw, I also love Penryn (Angelfall)

  7. Shannon N.

    Yes!! I refused to acknowledge the correct pronunciation of Raffe. I want to listen to it on Audiobook, but I’m afraid I couldn’t get past “raffie”.

    I’m generally open to unique names any time in fantasy novels or futuristic novels. It makes sense then. But sometimes I feel like authors try to pick unique names just to make their characters stand out and I don’t know if that always works out. You have a great list.

  8. I hate the name Tobias! LOL!

    I really adore unique names when they’re simple and easy to pronounce (with no doubt as to how). They can really stick in your mind. But if they have awkward letters or require you to think before you “say” it in your mind, then it can be really annoying. I feel like it disrupts my flow of reading because I have to stop and stumble over the name.

    • Ugh, I don’t even know how to pronounce it! I always said TOE-bee-us, but then I overheard some girls arguing that it was toe-BYE-us. Either way it’s awful!

      And yep, I like them to be obvious, and if not I need an explanation as to how to pronounce it! But sometimes even that doesn’t work – recently in The Sea of Tranquility with Nastya – I never could remember if I was supposed to pronounce it NAH-stee-uh or nah-STEE-uh, even after the author pointed it out. Where does the emphasis go?! It drove me CRAZY. Plus, every time I saw her name I just though ‘nasty.’ lol!

      And yep, they disrupt my flow too. Raffe KILLED me.

  9. I had to ask my fiance if he had ever heard of the nickname “Raf-fe” for Raphael… Neither of us had. I just kept saying “Rayf” in my head… it’s not like anyone would know you’re doing it wrong!

    I also did this with The Chaos of Stars. I kept saying “Sirius” instead of “Sirus”… I thought of Sirius Black the whole time!

    The name Penryn grew on me. But I fell in love with the names Pippa, Gemma, Kartik, and Felicity. (All from the Gemma Doyle trilogy.)

    • I think if she wanted it to be a nickname for Raphael, she should have chosen like Raphie or something. At least then it would be clear! Even Rafie would have been better!
      Sometimes if the names are awful I make up my own names for them, haha.
      I like Gemma!

  10. Haha definitely agree! Sometimes, I feel like authors purposely pick the most outlandish name possible for their characters, even if they’re quite ordinary. Even if I like a book, I can still hate the name and be like, “Why why why why why” every single time I read their name. Totally agree about Tobias. I can only see him as Four, and I kind of like Tris, but I feel like as soon as Four started getting referred to as Tobias, he lost his badass quality >.< I love the name Janelle, Arin, and Kestrel! Some names really turn me off at first, but after I get to know the character and the book, I warm up to the idea of their name.

    • Ugh, right?! I’m kind of on the fence about reading The Selection because the MC’s name is America. That’s an awful name!!
      Yeah, I still call him Four. He will never be Tobias to me >.< Kind of like in Tangled when Flynn reveals that his name is really Eugene...nope, couldn't do it. He is Flynn Rider, end of story!!

  11. OMG! I had the same problem with Angelfall. Totally drove me nuts! lol There is another series where I saw the lead character’s name was Eureka and suddenly lost all desire to read the book. Sad day in name town.

  12. I like unique names that still sound like something someone would actually name a child, like Sarah Dessen’s characters. They have unique names that aren’t completely insane. On the other hand, I read a summary recently where the girl was called Bird and the guy was called Coffee. Sorry, but your book sounded interesting until those names!

  13. Eh…I don’t know. I try to be lenient to names because I’ve been converted to loving names I used to HATE because I’ve read an epic character with that name. I don’t like those names that are like someone threw up a bunch of vowels on the page LOL!! I can’t even handle that! I do actually like the Divergent names. ;) But I’m not a fan of the names Jeb or Jeth. >_<

  14. I don’t mind odd names but they HAVE to be pronounceable. I can deal with an odd name, I’ll get over it eventually but if I can’t pronounce it? Now we have trouble, Houston.

  15. Ha, I’ve got a similar post scheduled in a few weeks! Only instead of being politically correct about things, my title is something like “Ridiculous Character Names” haha

    So, obviously, I agree with you! I can’t handle it when a character has a name that’s just…well, ridiculous!

  16. I really like it when authors come up with new names. It would get very tiresome if every book had characters with the same name. But sometimes they make it so weird. Names like Chaol, Celaena and Sorin: awesome! But I believe I saw a book where the guy was named ‘Butterfly’ and I just can’t take that serious.

  17. I love names :) I actually have a running list of interesting names that I find in books, 1) because I’m weird and 2) because I’m weird and I eventually will have to name my future children and I love interesting names :P

    I do love the name Davy though, haha. I love boyish names for girls. Some of my recent favorite names from books are: Coley, Shaw, Caymen, Ridley, Rory, Wren, Imogen, Astrid … for guys I have loved Cole, Noah, Grayson… I love book names :) I also love the name Aria too !!!

  18. I’m not a huge fan of “Hermione” either. Fun fact: When I first started reading the books, I pronounced it “her-mee-own.” And it took me until like Book 4 to finally start getting the hang of saying it the right way, haha.

  19. I don’t like the name Jeb. lol!

    Agree, some of the names are just a joke for me, but sometimes literature can be a great source of inspiration when searching for your baby’s name. I’ve always been a fan of literary names for babies, I wouldn’t build a blog for it if I wasn’t interested. :) I know naming is so hard, that’s why we collected tons of interesting names to inspire them.

  20. Karou! I don’t know why but this name has just stuck, and I’ve seen some pretty names but that one I shall name my firstborn (kidding… kind of).

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