Naming OCs: A Rant
I'm reading a story right now by an author that up until five minutes ago, I considered to be pretty talented.
All right, I take that back, I still do.
But he's named two of his incidental characters AJ McLean and Chris Kirkpatrick. He admits that he tends to name them from whatever CDs are nearby, but it is slowly driving me nuts, in spite of the fact that neither character was important enough to even appear "onscreen." They were both mentioned in passing. Chris Kirkpatrick is even a female. (I'm not sure if that makes things better or worse.)
I suppose I should count myself lucky that he doesn't listen to things that are more classic. I think Frank Sinatra as an immortal headhunter would have completely driven me 'round the bend.
The reason this bugs me so much is that it is so easy to not do this. Why Chris Kirkpatrick and AJ McLean? Why not Chris McLean and AJ Kirkpatrick? If you read RP slash and that sounds too much like the ending of a bad one (Aww, they got married and took each other's names! How sweet!) then why not AJ Chris and Kirk McLean. Oh, wait, one of them needs to be female. Angela Chris and Kirk McLean. Now I'm not getting a picture in my head of these characters who I'll never see. They're new people. It isn't hard to do.
If a writer really, genuinely cares so little about the names of these characters that even that is too much trouble, then why not let someone else name the characters? Ask your beta, ask someone you work with or you live with or you meet on the street, for Pete's sake. Give the female doctor your sister's name. It isn't like the character does enough that your sister is going to care. Give the already-dead baddie the name of the bully that beat you up in the third grade. Pick someone from the phone book. Who cares? Just don't make it someone we'll all know.
Why not? Is this just something that makes me crazy? Am I just hypersensitive to this?
I probably am. After all, I read a little RP slash, and so those two names are very familiar to me. The writer could have equally well chosen to name the bad guy after the current President as these people, as far as I'm concerned. The names are distinctive enough to bring an immediate picture to my mind. But that isn't really why this is a bad idea.
It is a bad idea because someone will always recognize names you lift from famous people, no matter how "non-distinctive" they are. A family made up of Mama Chris(tine) Carter, Daddy Nick Carter, and teenage son Aaron Carter will still ring bells with people, even though the names are actually rather bland and drawn from slightly separate sources. And when someone recognizes that you've lifted the names verbatim like that, it immediately and permanently marks you as a writer who doesn't care enough about your work to do the easy stuff. It is almost like you write in big neon letters at the top of the story "I don't really care about this one." And if you don't care enough about a story to do the easy stuff, why should I care enough to read it?