A Hero Named Sue

The story hero is rich, charming, and handsome, with a tragic past: his parents eloped and died young, so when we meet him, he’s a lonely orphan being raised by a stern grandfather.

To his good fortune and our delight, he is adopted by a neighbor family full of girls, who treat him as a playmate and pseudo—brother. As he grows up, we see he can be shy at parties, but will happily dance away from the crowded ballroom; he is a scamp and a lazy student, but in turn can be considerate and brave. He has a mercurial, musical side that comes from his Italian mother. All in all, he’s a wonderfully written character.

When he is old enough, he falls in love, but alas! The young lady of his choosing turns down his proposal. Broken-hearted and bitter, he runs off to Europe to flex his inner dilettante. Eventually, his true self – the good boy – emerges again when he falls for another young lady—his first love’s baby sister!

As we have seen throughout the story, despite our hero’s many attributes, nothing comes easily for him. His new love insists he prove himself worthy, mature, and steadfast. Again to his good fortune and our delight, he does, and marries her, and returns to her family, where he has always belonged.

He sounds like the perfect romantic hero, doesn’t he? He’s got it all: tragedy, potential, redemption. If there is one thing wrong with this hero, it’s his name.

Laurie.

In case you have not already guessed, Laurie is short for Theodore Laurence, the romantic boy-brother-lover of Little Women.

When I read Little Women as a young girl, I fell in love with Laurie. I’d already fallen in love with Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables, and would soon fall in love with Marius Pontmercy of Les Miserables, so my penchant for falling for good boys was firmly entrenched.

But while Gilbert may not be the most testosteroney moniker around, and Marius is, well, French, neither gives a modern reader quite as much pause as Laurie.

Because, face it—Laurie is a girl’s name. In 1868, when the first half of Little Women was published, perhaps a feminine nickname for a male character was acceptable. Jo sometimes called him Teddy, which was slightly better, I suppose, but for the most part, he remained Laurie.

This makes me wonder. In 2012, can a male hero have a girl’s name?

Think of the last novels you’ve read. What is the hero’s name? Jake, Jack, Russ, Dave, Joe, Moe, Mike, Mick, Nick, Will, Jim, Luke, Walt, Ranger. One syllable (except for Ranger) and a manly man’s name.

There are times when I open a novel and see one of the above names, and I am reminded of the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Gus introduces his nieces and nephews: “Anita, Diane and Nick. Anita, Diane, and Nick. Nick, Nick. Nicko. Nick. Nicky.”

I have nothing against Jake, Jack, or Joe, or Nick, Nicko, and Nicky, but wouldn’t it be great to have some two syllable names in there? Even, gasp!, an occasional Laurie?

There’s an old Johnny Cash song called “A Boy Named Sue.” Sue’s dad abandoned him and left him with a girl’s name, which seemed like an added cruelty. Salt in the wound. Poor Sue had to fight his whole life: “My name is Sue. How do you do? You’re gonna die!”

It made for a cute song, but it made Sue strong and tough. Would he have been so resilient if he was called Mike?

If we are interested in challenging a male hero, think about the extra challenge of being saddled with a girl’s name.

So, I’m curious. Must your manly hero have a manly name?  Would you be okay with a tough guy named Laurie? Or Sue?

Ramona

14 thoughts on “A Hero Named Sue

  1. I think most writers stew about the names of characters more than they do about plot. Which is hilarious, but there you go. When I was writing romance novels, the (unwriten?) rules included what letters a good masculine name had to start with. (R the hands-down winner. Rhett, anyone?) Never a vowel, and godforbid a “G.”

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  2. When I named Ralph, it was because he was going to be the klutzy cop and I thought the name suited him (maybe a hint of Ralph Cramden?). I was shocked when he turned out to be the romantic interest. He’s the Nice Guy, to be sure, and is not finishing first in Immy’s affections–yet. It’s only a matter of time, though. I think Ralph sat up and became real in spite of his name. He’s by far the exception for me! My characters don’t usually come alive unless they have the right name.

    I like to give characters, especially in longer works, names that their parents would have chosen, so I figure I can say things about the character with the last name, too.

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    • Kaye, I agree, Ralph’s a nice guy but he is no pushover. And you give him a believable weakness–home cooking! It fits him too.

      That’s an interesting comment about names parents would have chosen. I don’t really think of parents, but that is an angle to ponder. Thanks!

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  3. When my now-forty-year-old niece Susan was age two, she still had no hair. We called her the Boy Named Sue! Soon after, she began to sprout hair and has always enjoyed thick, luxurious locks. Thanks for the quick trip down memory lane.

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  4. ‎. . . confusing at the very least. My late in-laws thought they were being very European naming their son, my ex, Jan (which would have been pronounce “yan” there, but not in the U.S.) — and in the US, it meant he got mail addressed to Miss or Ms . . .

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  5. Ramona, funny your saying Leslie is a girly name for a guy. My sister Leslie dislikes it because she says it’s a guy’s name (which, of course, it was). As for me, I’m always getting mail addressed to ‘Mr. Avis…’.

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    • Avis, tell your sister I am envious–when I was younger, I wanted my name to be Leslie. In fact, when my cousin used to visit and we’d play with our Barbies, I had an elaborate alternate identity for her/me: Her name was Leslie, and she had a glamorous career as a private secretary in Boston. I had a black cape for her, which she wore to work every day, and I pictured her walking in the snow with the black cape whipping around. I don’t recall the name of her employer, but now I guess he will be Mr. Avis!

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