1. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Similarity in names - a problem?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by nhope, Aug 15, 2010.

    There are three main characters in my novel, Lila, Marian, and Sylvia. The name "Sylvia" just doesn't do it for me anymore and I really want to call her "Jillian." Her character is a best-selling romance/erotica novelist who had an open, unconventional childhood which is reflected in her fiction. "Lila" is the disturbed housewife who is just about to go over the edge, and "Marian" is the high-school-weirdo-loner-turned psychologist dealing with her own issues. The three are best friends.

    Will the names "Marian" and "Jillian" sound too similar? I was debating on "Jillie" but it sounds too juvenile.

    I've also considered Jacqueline but it makes me think of Jacqueline Susann.

    Any other ideas? They were all born in the early '60's so the name has to reflect those years.
    *********
    An aside - I just googled her and found this quote:
    "The second draft is on yellow paper, that's when I work on characterizations. The third is pink, I work on story motivations. Then blue, that's where I cut, cut, cut." -Jacqueline Susann
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would avoid such similar name unless that similarity is important to the story. I have changed names to avoid reader confusion due to similar names.
     
  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The normal spelling is Gillian. It is quite a sixties name, but sadly, too similar to both of the other two to be a good idea, imo.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually i think its Lila and Jillian that are too similar visually. Marian and Jillian look very differnt. Maybe make Lila something else.
     
  5. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    sigh...okay. I can always use Jillian - or Gillian - in another story.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think you have to worry about it too much. The names you've chosen aren't too similar. If your readers get confused between Jillian and Lila and Marian then maybe you need some smarter readers.:p

    I think many, if not most, people have dealt with situations in which they're around people with very similar names. When I was a kid, I had three Steves in my immediate circle of friends. That wasn't too confusing. When I went to university, I was with three Gregs, two of which were Greg Smiths. It happens in real life.
     
  7. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    :) And then there is that. Very good. Something else to consider.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    However, writing is not real life, and one of the first pieces of advice I was given in feedback from an agent was never to give the characters similar names.
     
  9. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    What defines a similar name? lol I don't see much similarities between Lila, Marian, and Jillian at all. I agree that character shouldn't have similar names, but this isn't a case of Charlotte and Charlene or Doris and Doreen. And it's not a case of having multiple "Greg Smiths" or "Stevens" anyway. I can't say those names you posted are too similar. I mean, if people are easily confused, you can go crazy trying to keep each character's name so distinct. If you give them a last name(most people have one), it helps to differentiate even more. (You could also give one a nickname, call Jillian by the name Jill like my cousin goes by)

    So while I agree similar names should be avoided, I don't see these names as being similar at all. Frankly, if readers get confused by two names that might share a few letters in common but look nothing alike, odds are any intelligent story is going to confuse them as well. Sometimes you just feel called to name a character something and as long as the name similarity is not really blatant, I really don't see why one has to worry too much about what to name character. The names you provided were all distinct enough to me. Lila, Marian, and Jillian don't have enough in common to really seem confusing. If you wanted to name the third woman Marisa, you might have a point but I just can't see how these three names are confusing.
     
  10. MattsyKun_Zebbie
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    MattsyKun_Zebbie New Member

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    I would avoid using similar names. I know I'd get confused if the names were too similar. People might make the assumption that they're the same person or something like that. xD
     
  11. caimomile
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    caimomile Member

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    if the similarity is coincidental, I believe it will pose some problems. If it is intended, no problem.
     
  12. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    and "Marian" is the high-school-weirdo-loner-turned... some readers would not take kindly to such a remark, especially if they are what you call high-school-weirdo-loner-turned (This might mean me -.-).
    so, no. "Marian" and "Jillian" I do not find similar unless the reader carefully examines them or you are writing a movie script.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind that name is only one aspect of a character. Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings have distinct names, but in the first half of the saga, they are very difficult to tell apart. Maybe, just maybe, they'd be easier to tell apart if their names were even more distinct form one another (not two-syllable names stressed on the first syllable). Of course, more behavioral differences would work much better.

    There are many considerations to take into account. Are the characters central or peripheral? Is each the same distance from the center of the story? How similar are they in other characteristics?
     
  14. Radrook
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    Radrook Contributing Member

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    I once began reading a short story by a famous successful sci fi author and couldn't get past the first two pages. You see, he introduced so many characters and names in that short space that I couldn't keep track. The extreme complexity of their names added to the difficulty. I tried several more of his short stores and encountered the same problem. So I decided to avoid the author. Then years later, after reading one of his better stories, I bought a sci fi anthology in which he was prominently featured. There he didn't go weird on me. Probably the stories I read were in his earlier years when he didn't know better. Nevertheless note that they were published. So I suppose that this quirk didn't hinder his progress since he is considered a very prominent figure in the Sci fi genre.

    So I suggest a slow gradual introduction of characters. Let the reader get used to the name. Then later introduce another character with a distinct name. I think this mistake caused by having too many characters vying for the protagonist role.

    The author I'm referring to is Poul Anderson.
     
  15. youngmessage
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    youngmessage New Member

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    As Radrook said before me a gradual introduction between each character should allow time for the reader to process and differentiate between the characters. Recently I read a story where three character had nearly the same name because two of these characters where twins and the third was a cousin of the two. They were all introduce in the same paragraph which made it hard to follow but fortunately they were not important enough to the story that it mattered. I personally don't believe the two names sounds or look anything alike beside the -an at the end. I believe many of you are underestimating the author's audience. If you really still believe the names are too similiar you could always try spelling the names differently like "Mary Anne" and "Gillian" as someone said before.
     
  16. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    In writing, you have make it clear who and what you mean.
    Therefore, I would make their names as clear and distinguishable as possible.

    What about Julie instead of Gillian? or better still shorten Gillian to Jill.
     
  17. TristanThorn
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    TristanThorn New Member

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    Hi nhope.
    I have to say I totally agree with show's comments. I cannot see that there would be any confusing for the reader if you went ahead and used these names.
     

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