L.B.: Episode IV

Left Behind, pg. 221

People seemed reluctant to leave, even after Bruce closed in prayer. Many stayed to get acquainted, and it became obvious that a new congregation had begun. The name of the church was more appropriate than ever. New Hope.

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A Cautionary Note to Young Writers

As you select names for your characters, for the businesses where they work, and for the town or city in which your story is set, you may decide that these names should be not only apt, but Meaningful.

Good for you. Meaningful Names can reinforce character and theme. They can be useful, beautiful things.

But, unless your name is John Bunyan, some subtlety is required. Trust your readers.

Once you've carefully chosen a Meaningful Name, you may begin to worry that readers will miss it. Such worry can lead you to think you need to underscore and italicize your Meaningful Name to make sure that readers recognize and appreciate it. No good can come of this. Give in to such worries and soon you'll be writing things like:

Shepherd thought of her name, Grace, and it seemed more appropriate than ever. She had come into his life unbidden and undeserved …

Or like this:

Jackson stood by the river that bore his family name and listened to the distant roaring of the waterfall. Jackson Falls, he thought, bitterly. And this name, the name of the falls and of the town and, yes, dear reader, of this short story and this collection of short stories, seemed to him more appropriate than ever …

Or like this:

People seemed reluctant to leave, even after Bruce closed in prayer. Many stayed to get acquainted, and it became obvious that a new congregation had begun. The name of the church was more appropriate than ever. New Hope.

Don't do this. Trust yourself, trust your readers, and don't beat them over the head with your Meaningful Names.

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Feel free, in comments below, to offer more examples — real or imaginary — of reader abuse through the unsubtle use of Meaningful Names.

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  • Arakasi

    I came into this too late to be the first to mention my favorites (Beastiality Carter and Mr. Wednesday)so I’ll mention the one I really despise – Neo Anderson => “New Son of Man”

  • The Bog Man

    Wow, this post has been up for a while and no one has thought to mention Faulkner? Yes I am a little bitter at being forced to dredge through page after page of his onanistic “stream of though” gibberish. My own damn fault I suppose, I asked my college English teacher for a book with a lot of symbolism, and was then forced to expound upon the brilliantly subtle technique of naming every freaking character in ‘Light in August’ after a personal attribute. The troubled Gail Hightower, the guilt-ridden Joanna Burden, the fertile Lena Grove. The anti-hero is named Joe Christmas for crying out loud! (And is later to be martyred by a fellow named Percy Grim. Oh Lordy.)

  • Cactus Wren

    Would this be a good time to mention that Robert Heinlein wrote a novel about a character named FRIDAY?

  • kim

    I thought Robin McKinley’s Beauty was perfect! Later she wrote another version of the same story,Rose Daughter, which I didn’t like as much. The others are all good too, but Beauty is my favorite.
    Terry Pratchett is great, but since his works are parodies, you have to expect over-the-top names.

  • Rowan

    Three things:
    First of all, I really enjoy reading your review, Fred.
    Second, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?
    Third…I just got the joke in the title.

  • ako

    Okay, Chick Tracts may be too easy, but in one called Angels? a Christian Rock band signs with a mysterious stranger called Lewis Siffer, who insists that they sign in their own blood.
    This being a Chick Tract, no one asks why, when he claims to own them “lock, stock and souls”, they just laugh, his detailed explination of Rock Music as a way of spreading evil and taking over the world makes no impact on the people listening, and when it’s revealed that he’s Satan, it’s supposed to be a surprise.

  • willie lee

    Seriously, post a new excerpt! I’m fiending for snark!!

  • Alan Smithee

    You know, I LIKED the “Out of the Silent Planet series, read it when I was very young (hey, I read 2001 when I was ten) but didn’t necessarily get the allegory side of it til I was older, we were hardly a pious household for one, but also, I wasn’t really taught to ‘look’ for all that stuff til I was older.
    Having said all that, there’s a lot of people who’ve read the Narnia series who don’t realise it’s allegorical either…
    I liked “Screwtape” also.
    Readers might also like to read some of HG Wells’ stuff, I’ve noticed, for our non-US (where copyright’s longer) readers, much of it’s available in the public domain, in the Project Gutenberg thing – if you don’t mind reading a plain-looking text file.

  • laariii

    the church being called “New Hope” makes me think of Star Wars Episode 4
    “A New Hope.”

  • Anton Sherwood

    Reverend Ref: My grandfather wrote a book about wood, From Forest to Furniture, and I never noticed the faint pun until now.

  • none

    The (terrible) 1984 knockoff is called America 2014.

  • http://www.taxdr.com/cottage-grove/ Cottage Grove

    Cottage Grove

    Information and maps on every neighborhood in Chicago including schools Cotta

  • Ken

    Or The King Kong Blues.

  • X

    Rasselas, that was hysterical. Bravo. Will there be a sequel?
    While we have a literature relevant thread, I’ll put in a shameless plug for anybody who wants to write for our Left Behind parallel story site. We have a few stories that have already been started, though I think none have got past episode 2 yet. You can find the blog here. Cminus has done stellar work setting up an index so you can choose things by story thread, or by author.
    If you want to write, drop me or him or jesu an email and we’ll add you as an admin on the blog. My anonymous address is:
    allregistered1 at excite dot com.

  • X

    Sorry, my html was constructed badly. The Blog is “Right Behind”.

  • Jim Blog

    In the Dr Who spinoff novel “Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma”, the main villainess is an evil dictator called Rehctaht. I spend half the book thinking “that’s a strange name” before I thought to read it backwards.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    The writers for the old Doctor Who had ISSUES with Margaret Thatcher. If you don’t believe me, find an old episode called “The Happiness Patrol.” Talk about sledgehammer symbolism!

  • Rozzen

    Ha ! I clicked only out of curiosity as to what spam a “Jim Blog” might be peddling… and it turns out I was wrong :)
    Re Wilde’s Ernest : Given how they go legally changer their names at the end I don’t think they were their real names…
    And for Pratchett’s names I’m surprised nobody mentioned my favorite, “James What the Hell’s That Cow Doing in Here Poorchick” (because they get named whatever the priest says at the baptism of course)
    On the serious Pratchett/Gaiman side, in Good Omens there’s Newton Pulsifer that’s pretty subtle. (I would never have thought of if without the Annotated Pratchett Files).
    Less subtle are Robin Hobb’s royalty in the Assassins series, but at least there are in-story justifications to those.

  • Jeff

    On the serious Pratchett/Gaiman side, in Good Omens there’s Newton Pulsifer that’s pretty subtle. (I would never have thought of if without the Annotated Pratchett Files).
    Do tell?

  • cjmr

    Annotated Pratchett File.
    (Hope my link works, I’ve been having trouble with that lately.)

  • Rozzen

    cjmr gave the link but I’ll paraphrase : a pulse is a kind of pea unless it’s the other way around, and “Lucifer” means “bringer of light”. Therefore “Pulsifer” means “bringer of peas”, i.e. : “bringer of peace”. ^^

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1149750585 Monica Swanson

    I’m not sure if this is “meaningful” or just “in-joke” but Tanya Huff wrote a fantasy novel about a werewolf pack in Ontario, Canada..specifically, LONDON Ontario. I realized the “Werewolves of London” connection about half an hour after I finished reading it. 

  • Anonymous

    I hate to dredge up a five-year-old thing, but I’m kind of astonished nobody pointed out that Perry Mason (I’m assuming they mean the one in In Cold Blood from context) was, you know, an actual person. In Cold Blood was at least nominally nonfiction.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    No, I’m pretty certain they meant the fictional lawyer written by Erle Stanley Gardner and played by Raymond Burr: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perry_Mason