Meme: Top Ten Most Unfortunate Character Names

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For some more unfortunate character names head on over there and check out some of the other linked entries.

I didn’t participate in last week’s meme because I couldn’t remember the last time I cried over a book. Books do occasionally move me, but they rarely make me cry, and when I do cry over a book, it’s usually because I have reason to cry anyway and something in the book sets me off. I didn’t even cry over Marley and Me, and that was pretty sad.

This week’s theme is a good one, because it will allow the participants to blow off some steam about names in literature that are ridiculous, absurd, inappropriate or funny-in-a-bad-way. I tried to stick to major characters in my choice, not necessarily central characters, but important ones. This is because even authors who give their protagonists sensible names often give minor characters the most ridiculous monikers, and going for those would enlarge the pool to much.

I can understand why an author would give a character an unusual or special name, since there is a lot in a name. Charles Dickens was famous for giving his characters names that were descriptive or indicative of their character, and often authors employ names in a very conscious way, for example giving bad people harsh-sounding or off-putting names and the good people strong and attractive names. A modern example is J.K. Rowling, who clearly put a lot of thought into her naming of the characters in the Harry Potter books.

A special list could be made of only Bond girl names, which are often irritatingly sexist (as well as being bad puns), but I am only going to include the one really big offender, because her name is not just very, very unfortunate, but it also fails to accurately describe her character within the sexist framework of the books. But just consider this: Holly Goodhead, Honey Ryder, Jinx, Kissy Suzuki, Mary Goodnight, Octopussy, Plenty O’Toole, Tiffany Case, and Xenia Onatopp.



So without further ado, here is my list of unfortunate names in literature:
  • Pussy Galore in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger. In the book, she’s a tough lesbian gang-leader who turns straight for Bond, but the name sounds more like a moniker for a brothel-keeper, or even a name for such an institution. Taken in the non-double entendre meaning it sounds like the name of a crazy cat lady. I predict this one will be on a number of lists.
  • Most of the dragonrider names from the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey. Authors: never, ever give more than one of your characters a name the majority of your readers have no idea how to pronounce.
  • The Weasleys in the Harry Potter books. It’s a good, old-fashioned English family name, but unfortunately it makes me think of weasels, which have an evil reputation, and the secondary meaning of a deceitful or treacherous person, which makes it a good villain name. Rowling can rationalise it all she wants (and she has) but it is not going to change my mind.
  • Anathema Device in Pratchett and Gaiman´s Good Omens. I know why she was named that way – naming blunders are a running joke not only in this book but in the Discworld books as well, but I stumble over it every time I read it.
  • Moist von Lipwig from Terry Pratchett’s Making Money. Another name I kept stumbling over – I kept seeing big, drooly lips in my mind, whereas the character himself is someone I quite like, in an arm’s length kind of way. On the other hand the naming of Adora Belle Dearheart was nothing short of brilliant.
  • Oedipa Maas from Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Authors: just because you can think up strange names, it doesn’t mean you are obliged to use them, or give them to your protagonists.
  • Junebug Moncrief. I found this one in a Jordan Poteet mystery by Jeff Abbott. I gave up reading the book around page 50 (didn’t like the style), so I was never able to ascertain whether it was his actual name or his nickname, but either way, not a good name for a sheriff, especially not as he appears to be the Watson in the books and not a bumbling Lestrade-type.
  • Sookie Stackhouse from the Dead books by Charlaine Harris. Why is it that so many writers writing about the American South think they have to give their characters weird and unattractive names? PLUS it totally sounds like a stripper name.
  • Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita X. Dream), daughter of Terminal Nitt, from various Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. Even though the name is perfect for her, it makes my scalp itch whenever I read it. Margat Garlick might have ended up on here as well, but it doesn’t have quite the same negative impact.
  • Uriah Heep from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. He is a villain, so Dickens felt the need to spell it out by giving him an evil-sounding name, but I think he went a bit too far. While his first name was probably chosen for it’s biblical connotations, it makes me think of urea.
And while she isn’t a character in a book (except after the fact) the name of Buffy “the vampire slayer” Summers always makes me cringe. I think she must originally have been intended as a comedy character. 

Comments

Krystal said…
Interesting list. I can't get past the name Moist. That just makes me cringe. That is not a word, let alone a name I like.
Here's My Top Ten
Dorte H said…
Great post! Names are also very important to me.

When I write, I spend quite a lot of time naming my characters. I am quite unable to write about them until they have a name, and when I have to change a name (e.g. because a beta reader tells me it is confusing to have an Evy and an Elvira in the same story), I think about it a lot. Evy refused to be renamed, so Elvira had to put up with becoming an Olivia.

When I write cosy mystery (caper), I use ´silly´ names; still I try not to choose something that will annoy the reader. Reverend Sheridan Thwing may be difficult to pronounce, but he won´t be an important character. (I think - if he turns out to become important, I´ll consider giving him a new family name).
George said…
I'm teaching a course in Management and using a textbook whose author's name is: Daft.
La Coccinelle said…
LOL... I agree about Uriah. I think it's just a horrible name all around. It sounds too much like urea or urine or... you get the idea.
Bibliophile said…
Krystal, something weird happens when I try to post a comment on your blog, so I can't put in the spamword and post my comment. I've tried both on Firefox and Exoplorer and nothing works, so I am posting it here instead:

I had to laugh when I saw the first two names. I wonder if there are any explanations as to why they're called that?

Mundungus's name made me giggle when I first read it.
Bibliophile said…
George, imagine being saddled with that name, or worse: Fifi Trixibelle. But maybe it has pushed this person to prove they aren't daft?
George said…
My students don't get the irony of reading a textbook by an author who's "Daft."

I just saw an amazing documentary: INSIDE JOB. The documentary starts in Iceland (beautiful photography), but the financial shenanigans by the banks in Iceland and the U.S. floored me. This documentary should win the BEST DOCUMENTARY Oscar. Highly recommended!
readerbuzz said…
I can deal with silly names while I'm reading, but it's hard to read along smoothly when a character has an unpronunciable name.
Kelly A. said…
I've always felt the same way about the Weasleys, they sound like they should be in Slytherin. I think weasels are J.K. Rowling's favorite animals though. Nice list!
Kayla + Cyna said…
Wow, Pratchett is almost as bad as Rowling with his names, isn't he? Of course, he did it first so it's probably the other way around...anyway, yeah. Moist von Lipwig wins, hands down. That's...gross. I get your mental image, but with cartoon lips and a Hitler 'stach. Yuck.

Yeah...I had to call someone named Uriah for work today and...it was hard not to laugh.
Bibliophile said…
George, I haven't seen Inside Job yet, but I'm hoping that it will be shown either by the country's one independent cinema or on TV.
George said…
The other documentary that's making the rounds here is WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, the story of a group of poor kids who are hoping to be chosen in a lottery so they'll get to go to a Good School (versus their present dysfunctional school). Another powerful film.

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