1. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,934
    Likes Received:
    1,956
    Location:
    Virginia, United States

    Do readers notice similarities in names?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Aug 27, 2017.

    Hello all!

    I'm finally working on a WIP again, and I'm noticing my character names are pretty similar... Damien, Dima, Nina... Tess and Thad... Mallory, Delaney, Linley... Dimitri (Dima) and Liridona (Liri)...

    Will a reader notice this or am I just being paranoid?
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,138
    Likes Received:
    18,820
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    I think that the answer is yes... at least sometimes. In my WIP#2, the two protags are name Marco and Orman. I've heard from more than one person that the similarity in their names made for a bit of confusion as to who was doing what in scenes where they are together (which is pretty much always). So... doing something about their names is a 'sticky note' I'll have to think about dealing with one day.

    But... In the book version of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (1988), there are two characters with the same name, Arthur, who are distinguished by one being Art (the MC) and the other being Arthur (who is Art's love interest). If you've seen the film the character of Arthur is not present and his part in the story is subsumed and joined to the character named Cleveland. Anyway... in the book I didn't have any trouble with these two fellahs having pretty much the same name, becoming lovers, blah, blah, blah. It didn't serve as a turn off to the reading.
     
    jannert likes this.
  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2015
    Messages:
    2,464
    Likes Received:
    3,855
    Location:
    SC, USA
    I think as long as they're names people recognize, rather than fantasy or just foreign language names, it's not usually a problem. At least it hasn't been for me - to be fair, I'm usually good with names. None of the ones you mention would trip me up.

    It's something I worry about too. In one project I batch named characters and ended up with Brent and Brenna, Karen and Erin, Serena and Marina, Kane and Thane ... Still not sure if that's gonna be all right.
     
  4. Operative13

    Operative13 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2017
    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    21
    To be fair, people tend to associate more with the kind of characters behind those names rather than the names themselves. Story-wise, people won't care about naming conventions if it's a good read. However, it doesn't hurt to vary your naming from time-to-time. You can google up baby names if you like and search across the thousands of possible names which ones you believe fit the character you are presenting.
     
  5. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,934
    Likes Received:
    1,956
    Location:
    Virginia, United States
    Once I realized how similar the names were, I did do this... But they never felt right. I used Nina as a placeholder name until I could find something better, but now she's Nina. She can't be anyone else. And Dimitri is Dima. That's just his name. So it's going to be Nina and Dima, and they're a couple... which is way too weird for my liking. But I guess I could always have Nina remark on the similarity of their names? Maybe then it would seem like I did it intentionally...
     
    jannert likes this.
  6. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2015
    Messages:
    13,658
    Likes Received:
    26,445
    Location:
    Seat 29e, Air Gradia 452
    My two yen:

    I struggle with names in my daily life, so yes, in fiction, I do notice and hate similar names. I know in real life some people call me Iain, some Asch, and some "Hey shithead, get over here," but your Dimitri/Dima thing would leave me confused as to whether there were two characters or one, so my advice would be to differentiate your characters as much as is realistically possible.
     
    OurJud and Tenderiser like this.
  7. rktho

    rktho Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2017
    Messages:
    1,501
    Likes Received:
    371
    If I had a nickel for every time someone told me my names were too similar...
     
  8. Marius Av

    Marius Av Member

    Joined:
    May 3, 2017
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    12
    My first book also had characters with similar names, even though they were only two - Mark and Mike. I was told about the similarity, but I didn't change it. They are very different when it comes to personality, so there's a little chance to mistake one for another. As for your characters, I suggest you to change a few of their names, if it's not the case when you really like them and their personalities are different. There are plenty of names out there. Creating them is a way, too.
     
  9. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,647
    Likes Received:
    17,334
    Location:
    Scotland
    I'd say to avoid similar names if you can. (The difficulty comes when you want the two names to be similar, for story purposes—twins, for example.) But yeah. It's especially bad when the two characters are introduced to the reader at more or less the same time. It's so easy to get them confused while reading, and confusion is never good.

    If a beta reader mentions that similar names of my characters are giving them problems following my story, I'd change one of the names without hesitation. By stubbornly sticking to the names you've chosen, you risk the reader attributing actions to the wrong characters. This can screw up your story, big time.

    The best remedy for this problem is to knock it on the head when you're first creating your characters, before their names and personalities get set in stone—at least in your own mind. Don't choose similar names. It's not really all that hard.

    Starting with the same letter can be a problem. So can names that rhyme. So can names with similar consonant-vowel progression. Dina. Dora. Jimmy. Johnny. Tim. Tom. Jim. Tim. It's what your eye does with these names while reading that makes the problem. How the names actually sound when spoken isn't quite as important. Your reader won't be speaking them out loud.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2017
    Cave Troll and Iain Aschendale like this.
  10. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2016
    Messages:
    289
    Likes Received:
    159
    Location:
    England, UK
    I generally don't get confused by names that sound similar as long as they don't look too similar. For instance, I wouldn't confuse Dima and Nina if I was reading in my head (although I might if I was listening to the story being read by someone else) but I would confuse Damien and Dima. If Tess and Thad (I've never heard that name before) are both different genders, I probably wouldn't confuse them, either. But I might confuse Linley and Liri.

    I had a problem with this in my own work the other day. It took me ages to find a different name for my character that felt like it might suit her, and while it doesn't feel as "right" as her original name, I think that will soon change with time once my brain is used to calling her something else. So even though changing them seems a bit scary now, if you do decide to do it, I think you'll get used to your characters being something else.
     
    jannert likes this.
  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,647
    Likes Received:
    17,334
    Location:
    Scotland
    Gosh. Marco and Orman? They don't seem TOO similar to me, other than the number of syllables and the fact that they share four out of five letters. But if your betas are struggling to keep them differentiated, I'd seriously consider changing one of the names. Do the characters also have similar personalities, which might add to the confusion? In that case, I'd definitely change one of the names.

    I try really hard to address any 'confusion' issues in my story. I'm less willing to change other parts of my story, to make a character more likeable, etc. But if readers stay they are struggling to follow what's going on, I try my best to alleviate that problem. That's not a preference issue, it's a comprehension issue. I've made zillions of changes along those lines, and it never hurts or changes the story.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2017
    Iain Aschendale likes this.
  12. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    6,773
    Likes Received:
    5,383
    Location:
    Funland
    To me your names look different enough. When I read, I see them visually, so if there's a John and a Jon, I will mix them up but Nina and Dima look different enough, so I probably wouldn't mix them up, especially if one is female and one is male, and they have different enough personalities.

    I think you're onto something. I have two brothers in my story called Jairus and Danny and I was writing a scene with them as well as the female protagonist and I kept mixing up the brothers. :D
     
    jannert likes this.
  13. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,138
    Likes Received:
    18,820
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    Nope. Not in the least. Marco is an inmate in a prison and is kinda' Riddick-esque. Orman is a totally square scientist. They're night and day, to be frank. o_O
     
    jannert likes this.
  14. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,647
    Likes Received:
    17,334
    Location:
    Scotland
    Well, that is a bit strange, because I don't think the names themselves should be easily confused. I'd maybe ask more questions of these betas, to find out why they're getting the two characters mixed up. It's not obvious, is it?
     
  15. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,138
    Likes Received:
    18,820
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    I think some of it may also be that we don't learn Marco's real name until a few chapters in. At the beginning he's referred to only by an inmate I.D. number, Three Thirteen.

    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/favorite-quote-from-your-main-character.130660/page-22#post-1591992
     
    jannert likes this.
  16. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,647
    Likes Received:
    17,334
    Location:
    Scotland
    Just as a possibility ...I have a very good Greek friend who lives in Athens. His name is Dimitris. His nickname is Mimis....
     
  17. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,647
    Likes Received:
    17,334
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ah. Could be. But see if you can find out from your betas. Ask what they think is actually confusing them.
     
  18. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,934
    Likes Received:
    1,956
    Location:
    Virginia, United States
    Dima and Dimitri are actually the same person. :D Dima is just his nickname.

    Thad is a male and Tess (short for Teresa) is a female. I could probably change Thad. I'm not stuck on that. Same with Damien and Liri and Linley. But Tesa, Nina, and Dimitri are pretty firm in my head for some reason.. I guess I'll change a couple names, write it, and see how bad it confuses betas.

    Thanks guys!
     
  19. Mayarra

    Mayarra Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2017
    Messages:
    90
    Likes Received:
    43
    I myself dont often notice, if the characters are different enough it is usually no problem. To me it also help if I only pronounce the vowels of the names, if those sound the same I tend to change one of them if the full names then too start to sound more similar. When in doubt, I always just ask someone for a fresh pair of eyes.
     
  20. Banananarchiste

    Banananarchiste Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2017
    Messages:
    57
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Montreal
    Hello!

    I'm having a similar issue. For my WIP I dont have many characters (5 important characters). And three of them start with "A". (I know, I know...)
    (The novel is in french so I have french names) Their names are: Ange ; Alice ; Adrien ; Thomas ; Émile.
    I guess I'll have to change at least one name?

    Thank you :)
     
  21. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I am the reason for safety briefs. :P Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    16,342
    Likes Received:
    23,273
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Aw man! So I can't write a 50 book series and have all my cast named Steve/Stephanie? :superlaugh:

    Yeah, it is probably a good idea to avoid characters with similar sounding names, at least
    to some degree. 2-3 I assume would be acceptable, but any more than that and you will
    be pushing it. Use name lists, and search foreign names as well if you are writing standard
    fiction, or try and get creative if your WIP is in Fantasy/Horror (or use name generators).

    Good luck.:superagree:
     
    Banananarchiste likes this.
  22. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    7,547
    Likes Received:
    10,208
    Location:
    London, UK
    Yes, absolutely.

    I thought I was particularly bad with names but, through book discussions and beta reading, I've come to realise lots of people have the same issue I do. I don't tend to remember full names but initials and length - I can spend hours carefully reading a 100k manuscript and giving detailed feedback and not be able to tell you if the main character was Lara or Lisa. If you have a Lara and a Lisa... I'm going to be very confused.

    I try not to have characters with the same initials in the same book. I know lots of other authors do the same.
     
  23. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,440
    Likes Received:
    2,081
    Location:
    New York
    I actually don't think about it that much, and maybe I should because I tend to lean towards boyish names for my girls (like Alex and Toni). No one has complained yet though. The names you mentioned wouldn't bother me. Actually, none of the mentioned sets of names by anyone would bother me because I don't see them as names - I see them as people.
     
  24. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2015
    Messages:
    2,398
    Likes Received:
    2,019
    It depends on context; how close they are on the page and in the plot and how similar they are as characters. You can have a throwaway backgrounder who has a similar name, that's fine. But I would say to avoid names that rhyme. Tess and Thad are ok, but not Dima and Nine, I think that's a bit much unless one is a really minor characters because the similar sound would throw me and end up with "Wait, which one is this?". When names have a more distinct sound like Tess and Thad then that's not a worry at all to me.

    You can work around this easily enough though. Just have the narration (where the names will be used most often) refer to one by their full name and the other by the diminutive. Within speech you can call them whatever, because the characters can call each other whatever they feel is appropriate for their relationship but if the narrator uses the full more distinctive name then that'll make sure that it adequately stands out. And don't get me talking about this stuff because I can go forever about the cool stuff you can do with names and nicknames and diminutives but suffice to say that you can fix a character name in narration then never had another character call them that and that works just fine.

    Also, if your betas encounter it as a problem then you can always just hang a lantern on it, have a moment when the characters can't tell the difference and take a second to force some way to resolve it in plot. Maybe that can't work in every book but all books need lighter moments just as a matter of pacing and acknowledging it in plot gives you the opportunity for the characters to organically find an answer to it and if the audience was having trouble with the names then they'll smile and think you did it on purpose.
     
  25. Thom

    Thom Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    Messages:
    107
    Likes Received:
    29
    I'd say if it is a regional thing, then it can be explained. Similar sounding names in a similar location. That has to be explained in some way though in the story. If you want to change them, but not lose their 'identity' as it were, then you can see about changing a few letters here and there per name to see about finding their 'uniqueness.'

    I had a similar situation but between two different stories that had no relation to each other. A secondary character in one was named Maier, and then I inadvertently gave a similar sounding name, Maiel to a man in the second story. Had to change the latter one. Chose Jame.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2017

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice