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