Writers, consider this when naming your characters.
There’s something to be said about who gets to decide which names are “unusual” and which are “common.”
Depending on your language, culture, geography, gender identity, et cetera, a name that seems unusual to you might be considered common elsewhere. A familiar name that feels “intuitive” to pronounce — for you — depends on which language(s) you speak and which names you hear used within your communities.
In a world where the writers most likely to be published — historically and today — have been English-speaking Whīte men, the names that we see most often in books are those which reflect the norms in that community: names of English or Latin origin — names common for Whīte (Anglø-Saxøn) folks.
Reading through the quote-tweeted thread, it’s unsurprising — given the biases in the publishing industry — to see which names people define as “common.” But run a search for the most common given names, and Muhammad (or a variant spelling) tops most global lists. Browse by geography or culture, and the publishing bias grows more clear.
Our assumptions about which names are “unusual” are steeped in whīte suprémacist culture norms.
When we continue to define “unusual” names as anything too far from John, Mary, or Taylor, we perpetuate the idea that Normal means Whīte.
Normal names are English or Latin names.
And using language like “unusual” (an adjective whose synonyms include words like abnormal, odd, and deviant) to describe the names we haven’t already seen over and over in books for hundreds of years reinforces the idea that different is bad.
Unfamiliar is bad. Other is bad.
My writing mentor and editor — whose guidance has been immensely useful in most cases — told me in one of our first meetings that I should use a different author name.
Lelindé Omallah Page is “too sci-fi,” she said.
This is the name that was on my birth certificate. Even if it’s alien to others, it’s the name I was given.
Will I be discounted by publishers and/or readers because my name is confusing or isn’t “intuitive” for them to pronounce?
Definitely. The data gives a resounding, “Yes.”
But I don’t want to cater to a writing world that only publishes — or reads — that which is familiar.
I want to be in a world that embraces variety, elevates the “unusual” (i.e. under-represented), and spotlights perspectives from historically and presently under-published points of view.
And I hope that more publishers, readers, and writers will turn toward that world, too.
It’s bound to be more interesting and more impactful than the same ol’ stuff we’ve seen before.