Jane. Right out, along with Heathcliff. Visions of cinched corsets and unrequited longing.
Maria. Those blasted Von Trapp children. Definitely out.
Owen. Hey, wasn't he that short guy who spoke in CAPITAL LETTERS ALL THE TIME? Ugh, not going there.
Roxanne. She may not have to turn on the red light, but who wants to write about a character which comes with a pre-made soundtrack?
One of the worst bits of dreadfulness that befalls the modern writer is the inability to select a character name free of connotations. Somewhere out there, in a grandly elegant library, sandwiched between the drear and psychedelia of the canon of English literature, lies a book whose contents are priceless.It contains a list of names in all the languages of the world.
Each piece of artwork, play, short story, novel, or film that becomes part of the human experience subtracts their characters' names from the book. Once taken, the names, now no longer pristine, cannot be used without implication or connotation. Every twentieth-century Blanche conjures up images of crazed, aging Southern belles dousing themselves alternately in gin and flower water; every Luke a clueless-yet-heroic sword-wielder.
You think those are bad? You should've seen the assassinations Puzo did to get "Vito" for "The Godfather"—word on the street is that some Spanish-Italian short story writer had this great idea for this drunken twentysomething womanizer named Vito Castiglieri, but got suckerpunched by Puzo's and Coppola's goons. Pity that Puzo and Coppola weren't able to sew up "Michael"—some creeps came along later and pinned some angel wings on that perfectly good gangster name, and ruined it forever.
Still not convinced? Have you seen a single convincing character named "Rick" since Casablanca? Don't look, but that's the ghost of Bogie standing behind you, ready to clock you with a vase if you so much as attempt to take what's his.
Life's getting pretty difficult for the writers of this world. Last anyone heard, there was a brawl going on down in South America for the rights to the names "Catarina" and "Deanna"—oops, looks like the Star Trek guys won the brawl for "Deanna," leaving only "Catarina" to be pocketed by some struggling, starving Russian playwright.
As a writer, how do you cope with the frustration and heartbreak of being born at the tail end of the century that stole all the good names? Is it any wonder that science fiction has become popular lately? Think about it—in science fiction, you not only get to make up planets and cultures, but you also get carte blanche to create original names that hold no taint of prior association.
Think I'm kidding? I've got two words for you: "Jean-Luc." I rest my case.
Hopefully no one else wanted "Jean-Luc," because it's gone now. I reckon the odds of another "Jean-Luc" character as about even with the odds of having a character named "Norman" who doesn't get any serial killer jokes.
But—you say—what about "Norm"? Those crafty TV writers….take off two letters from a serial killer and you get the one word that you can yell at any time, in any bar, without fearing for your life. I've heard that there's going to be some bare-knuckles brawling between the Cheers writers and that Norm Abram guy (you know, the guy who, given enough kindling, can construct a skyscraper that meets all California safety codes).
When in doubt, bet on the carpenter.
The 20th-century writers had it great. Someone got the Book of Names and passed it around. Everybody grabbed a name or two, took the nearest permanent marker, and scribbled out the names they'd chosen. The 21st-century writers are stuck with the spoils: a Book of Names with two names left in it, and not enough permanent markers to deface all the works of the 20th century.
Hannibal. Atticus. Jake. Lola. Tom. Scarlett. Marty. Ray. Ann. Eliza. Dante.
All gone. According to the book, we're stuck with Esmeralda and Clothilde.
Oh, hell, Disney's already got Esmeralda.
Please excuse me whilst my inner writer walks into the back yard and shoots herself.