I’ve been catching up on my to -read-to- do-book- review pile and noticed something that made me groan. What appears to be the most common name for a secondary character, flat character, dead character or old wizen cowpoke character is Charley, also spelled Charlie. It’s funny to me because my husband’s name is Charley. He refuses to spell it Charlie. Insisting the spelling changed when the cartoon character Charlie Brown made his appearance.
I must admit Charley (spelled correctly) appears in my first two novels. In Secrets & Charades as Evangeline’s long dead brother and then in a party scene in New Duet playing Yahtzee. I think there is something comforting about that name or so many novelists wouldn’t use it. He’s the best friend, the overbearing older brother or bratty kid brother. Call him Charles and he’s the CEO, the villainous usurper or royalty.
Then there’s the horse, mule, cat or dog called Charley. That moniker makes me laugh when I see it in literature. But in real life I almost had a heart attack. My sister called me one day in tears. “Charley’s died.” My heart started to race for a nano-second before reality brought me back. The cat she’d adopted years earlier, Charlie, had left this life not my husband.
Character names can be a challenge. We have our favorites and need to be careful we don’t overuse them. There is a secondary character in Secrets & Charades named Isabel and Isabella is my heroine in New Duet.
How many soldier’s in books and movies are Joe? Or cowboys named Dusty, Duke, and Buck?
We work hard at making sure our hero and heroine have memorable names. Whether it’s Star or Elizabeth we spend time matching the name to the characters stories. But the cop’s partner, the Sheriff’s sidekick or the dead brother is likely to be named Charley. Why? Maybe a relative, neighbor or childhood friend with that name.
The same goes for female characters. How many Sarah and Katie’s do you find in westerns. Tiffany and Heather are popular in contemporary tales. Back in the day Cynthia was a snobby character or a wealthy one. Cindy was usually a ten-year-old.
I’ve read of a cat, a dog and even a horse names Katie. Although Sally is more common for a mule in a western and it’s usually owned by ol’ Charley the prospector.
The point of my post is rather thin. I found it amusing that my husband’s name was so well-used on the sidelines of many books I’ve read over the years. That lead to the thought how important it is to take a moment to give some interesting names to those cameo characters or pets. I named a horse Drake in my novella. What picture comes to your mind with a black horse named Drake. Handsome and intelligent for sure. My current WIP has a large mixed breed dog named Brownie. Makes you think of warm and affectionate. Spike would not conjure the same feelings. I guess I could have names him Charley.
How about you? What name have you noticed often in the pages of your favorite books? What kind of characteristics do you expect to see when you hear certain names?