Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trendwatch: Lame Names in YA

This is on the lesser end of notoriety, but one thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately – especially in YA – is a tendency towards ambiguous, one word monikers for whichever dystopian society/totalitarian government is out to get the protag(s) this week. You know the kind I’m talking about – THE HUNGER GAMES has the Capitol; MATCHED has the Society; THE GIVER has the Community. Associated departments and developments follow a similar pattern: the Districts, a Match, the Power; even whole titles are becoming monothematic (and sometimes monosyllabic) affairs.

Of course, you could argue these uncomplicated names are meant as a comment on where our world is headed: a minimalistic future in which extraneous words are eradicated (doubleplusungood!).

Or you could call it a total lame-out.

I get the impetus behind these simple names and labels, I do. They’re short, (can be) evocative and are handy for keeping your reader in the dark about these organisations’ true intentions. They can also be an easy option when you’re first mapping out your work and it’s the first name that pops out of your head and onto your paper/screen (and it’s already four in the morning. Oh, that initial inspirational rush). Sometimes, those names just stick.

But when an author takes the time to create a new name, a name that’s vivid and expressive and memorable, it shows. And it works. One of the best and most memorable for me is V FOR VENDETTA’s totalitarian government Norsefire (a name so brilliantly evocative I’m still trying to figure out a way to semi-plagiarise it), which employs mythic and elemental imagery to evoke themes of destruction, war, control and passion. The name suggests real-life totalitarian regimes, and its accompanying slogans, like ‘Strength through Unity. Unity Through Faith’, share similarities of cadence with Orwell’s 1984 coda, ‘War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Ignorance is Strength’. This concept is continued through the series’ simple but never simplistic names for its secret police (the Finger) and divisions (the ‘Eye’ visual surveillance department, the ‘Ear’ for audio surveillance, the ‘Hand’ for agents, the ‘Nose’ for the police department and the ‘Mouth’ propaganda division).

For me, it’s specificity over simplicity any day.

Do you agree? Does this mini-trend of unadorned and unspecific names speak of a minimalistic future, or authorial laziness? What are your favourite names, and what category would they belong to?

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