My Favorite Letters of the Alphabet

Apparently, I in love with M and J.

I finished a really rough outline of my novel yesterday. I re-numbered the chapters and wrote out the actions. I listed characters who appeared in each scene, and I began to notice a slight trend. My cast of characters includes:

  • Millie
  • Her mother
  • Mrs. Wilson
  • Mr. Millstead
  • Marcie
  • Mr. Jackson
  • Jonathon
  • Note: Millie’s last name is Jones

Oh, sure, there’s a Deloris and a Brenda. There’s even a Quinn (thank God for Q).

But, clearly I’m mesmerized with just a few select letters.

Mmmmm, I love rewrites.


41 responses to “My Favorite Letters of the Alphabet

  1. Okay, so I pulled up my characters file and found that I gravatate toward J names: Jalal, Jennie, Judith, Jason, James! And in my soon-to-be wip, the mother’s name is Jacquie. Weird.

  2. I do that too! And then it’s hard to think of other names because the first ones seemed so perfect.

    • I agree! I was thinking I should change a few names, but I have grown to like those characters!

      I’ve changed names in short stories before, after several rewrites, and I stumble through the names each time I read them out loud.

      So, my next question is: if you rename characters, is it better to do that in the beginning or at the end?

      • It would certainly be easier to do it at the beginning … before it’s ingrained.

        Maybe a linguist would be helpful. Is there a physical reason we favor M and J? Or a cultural one?

        • You raise some good questions. Maybe we lean towards a certain few letters for both physical and cultural reasons: the sound of the name as it rolls off our tongues and our connection with a certain culture or heritage.

    • Usually I don’t recognize a problem until the names are deeply ingrained in my little brain. Then nothing sounds right. I have one poor girl that has been renamed six or eight times. I just can’t get it right.

      And now that you mention it, I also lean slightly toward M and J. Out of 15 characters, five are M and J. Milla, Monty, Micah, JohnScott, and Jack.

      I think you’re on to something here. Not sure what, though.

  3. My sister is always getting on me for this! I am always finding names for M and J. Now I set out with a purpose to expose new letters to my alphabet. So much fun using Kristy instead of Marie, again… πŸ™‚

    • A fellow M and J lover! Welcome, joyofdawn!

      I might invest in a new name book (I threw my old one out after I declared I was done having kids) and start sifting through the other letters of the alphabet…surely there’s an Annie or a Lilly or even a Yolanda in my future.

      • Thanks!
        My sister loves to use the dictionary to look up names. There seems to be a section in the back of ours that she enjoys.
        I just kind of wait around, but a book of names might not be a bad idea! I’m still being amazed at how much a simple change of a name affects the story! So much fun!!

  4. The names Joe and Jack pop up for me time and again, but I think I’m all over the place with names in general, they add a personal layer to word-love.

    • Victoria, I like your perspective: a diversity in names adds another layer to your writing. That’s all the more reason for me to break out beyond the rule of M and J the next time I write a new story.

  5. Pingback: The First Letter of Character Names « Shadows in Mind

  6. We do indeed have a psychologist in the house – me! But I’m going to be fairly useless here except to say that I’m pretty certain there are cultural biases, an uneven alphabetic distribution of names, and probably an underlying psychological preference. Representativeness is likely to be a key player too – you believe there are more instances of something if you can recall a few of them. Hate to be beat so I’m on it but could be a while so keep the coffee hot…

    • Suzanne,
      Welcome to the blog! Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to hearing more.

      Also, take a peek at the post on Shadows in Mind (mentioned in the comment above yours). Ann has some great insights as well.

      • Well, had a scout around and my preliminary findings show that J, R & M are the most frequent initials for men (J&R) and women (M) with J the most popular initial (US census 2000). Could be people get stuck in that loop of representativeness and then find it hard to feel right about anything else.
        There’s also a thing about word sounds. Some letter combinations are sharp and edgy (zick, or satch for instance) while others are soft (fom, shaze). In experiments, people nearly always assign ‘soft’ nonsense word to rounded shapes and ‘sharp’ ones to jagged shapes. Could be we also choose names that reflect the personalities of our characters. If we don’t, we could – just to give a clue to the reader. Or we could assign a name that throws people psychologically because it is ‘wrong’ for the character’s ultimate course of action.
        Need a lie down now…

        • “Or we could assign a name that throws people psychologically because it is β€˜wrong’”

          Meet the evil wizard trying to decimate our world to build a new order! His name is Kyle Schumaker.

          Someone in one of my writers’ groups (or maybe it was me… I don’t remember) suggested giving the bad guys names that are unusual and difficult to pronounce. Readers will dislike them automatically.

          • Oooh, Kyle is a conundrum! Soft first name, scratchy second name – unless you’re German of course.
            Whoever made the suggestion about difficult names for the baddies seems to have been implicitly following the soft/scratchy principle. I’m wondering now about likeability ratings based on unconscious appraisal of a person’s name. And does being attractive outweigh a duff moniker? The tall, willowy, and dark eyed – er, Blodwyn?!

        • Well, I’m in a quandary. My main character is named Jalal … apparently not an easy name for some Americans to say … but that’s how he “introduced” himself to me. As for associations, in the case of Jalal, we know instantly not to picture a blue-eyed blonde.

          However, we each associate names with mental pictures and that’s something we can’t control in the reader. If a particular name is associated with a universally famous person, and your character is quite different, your reader will have to fight against their initial picture. That can work in your favor, of course, if you intend that association.

          So I agree that the use of names with “sharp and edgy” or “soft” sounds can be a short-cut to characterization. And, like Ann suggested, can be a detour as well.

          Fascinating subject.

        • Suzanne, I love that you’re back with more great info on the psychology of names. Your thoughts about sharp and edgy sounds to the shape of a character is makes me want to rename a few characters.

          Ann, I love your comments, too. I can’t wait to read more about that evil Mr. Schumaker…grrrr.

          Linda, I totally agree — fascinating subject and fun to see where each writer goes with names.

      • Thanks for the plug, Christi. I’m big on names, and your post got me thinking about them last night.

  7. In my middle grade novel, the names were all chosen carefully and make use of a literary device that helps the MC solve his major problem. It was so much fun to work on the names for this WIP. My MC’s third grade teacher is named Miss Pell β€” can you guess what bugs her most?

    Garage sales and library book sale rooms are great places to look for baby name books, but there are also a lot of resources online, including this terrific time waster that generates names:

    • Susan,
      Until this post, and all the great discussion (including your comment), I rarely thought so much about the importance of names, of how they play into characterization and the story as a whole.

      And, thanks for that link! That’s a great resource for the future. I especially love the villain generator with names like Claude the Odorous (sounds like a great fit for a middle grade novel) πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Christi,

    I’m a little late to the lettering party, but I’ve noticed the same tendency and it’s interesting to read others’ thoughts on this.

    I had a minor character in my last novel that appeared to me as the MC in my WIP. I changed her name once I realized that, but I just couldn’t live with it, so changed it back — Jane.

    • I spent some time the other night renaming a few characters, hoping to break a little of the M & J pattern. But I, too, am thinking I’ll change one name back and then wait for beta readers to say whether or not the M sounds are redundant or confusing.

    • Cathryn, I don’t know if it’s “allowed” in my genre, but a character from my please-let-this-be-the-last-edit novel will be the mc of my new one. She’s the one with the “J” name that may be changed.

      • I’m just curious, are the character names the same but the essence of the character different? Or, is it the same person in a different story?

        And, why would it be a no-no to use the same name in a different story within your genre?

        • Yes, same person in a different story. She’s middle-aged in my current novel, and the new one will be her story before that.

          I don’t think there would be a problem just re-using a given name, unless it was an unusual name, maybe.

          Actually, since I’m still unsure what “genre” The Brevity of Roses might sell as, I probably shouldn’t make statements about what is and what isn’t allowed. πŸ™‚

  9. Who is the arbiter of what’s allowed? And anyway, aren’t you describing a prequel here? You’re the artist, you say what’s allowed!

    • Prequels and sequels and series are common in some genres, but not all. Though I would love to say it’s allowed for me to write prequels and sequels for several of the characters in this novel because I quite like them.

  10. If you like them, probably we would too. And isn’t it often people’s second or third novels that get published first? Nothing like having the follow-up in the bag before you need it.

  11. Funny how we get attached to certain letters!

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