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In my book (fantasy novel), there's a character named Brad. Unfortunately, Brad has become synonymous with "douchebag".

Now, when I first introduced him I just came up with a name. It needed to be on "B", because he was a butcher. "Brad the Butcher", rings nicely right? But then after a while, a thought popped into my head. Isn't the name Brad a bit douchey? Now, I know this is kind of opinion-based, but then again, there are many people who say that they correlate the name Brad with douchery. The thing is, Brad is not a douche. He is likeable, at least from my perspective. I am worried that his name will give my readers a preconceived notion that he's a douchebag. FYI, he's 16 years old.

To give some context, here are his character traits.

  • Nonchalant
  • Apathetic
  • Witty
  • Cool-headed
  • Kinda psychopathic
  • Usually calm but very passionate about one subject (He loathes the upper-class)
  • Has a soft spot
  • Best friend to the main character
  • A bit greedy; can easily turn on someone

So, he's no douchebag. Perhaps he's a bit of a bad guy sometimes, but not a textbook "wazzup" douchebag. So, will people regard him as such anyways? Don't get me wrong, someone named Brad is not necessarily a douchebag, but unfortunately the name has that connotation. But is this connotation so strong that it will overshadow his prominent traits and make people expect things about him that I never intended to be a part of him? Or will experiencing the character prevail over its connotation?

Also, as a note. I changed his name to Barney, but it felt wrong. I had written him as Brad for a while, and the name grew on me. But the fact that I like Brad better is probably primarily based on the fact that it was my initial choice and the one I've written with. Do you think Barney would be a better name for my character?

EDIT: I just want to clarify exactly what I'm asking. Will the development of a character thwart the false connotation a certain name brings?

  • 5
    Not making this a full answer as it doesn't address your main question, but since Brad is short for Bradley, why not just call him Bradley? – F1Krazy Jul 6 '18 at 9:34
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    I can't help feeling that the premise of this question is based on existing works of modern fiction, which create a certain character archetype to be associated with a certain type of name. Is your association of "Brad" with "douche" possibly caused by other works wherein the name "Brad" was given to douchie characters? (Indeed "Barney" may carry the connotation of the "Nice but dim" type character, e.g. Barney Rubble / Barney Gumble) IMHO there's nothing wrong with breaking the stereotype. – colmde Jul 6 '18 at 10:29
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    "Brad" does not meany douchey to me ... clicking on this link in the HNQ I thought it was going to be about "Adolf" or something. – Azor Ahai Jul 6 '18 at 15:35
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    "there are many people who say that they correlate the name Brad with douchery" certainly citation needed! On the other hand, perhaps they're thinking of brat instead? – Andrew T. Jul 6 '18 at 16:56
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    Well dang, I'm Brad and I never knew there was any connotation of me being a douche. I certainly disagree with the connotation of being a fratboy, having never been in a frat and having an aversion to drinking in general – BKlassen Jul 6 '18 at 21:56

10 Answers 10

39

While names have connotations, those are, most of the time, different connotations for different people. Hearing the name 'Brad' one person can think of Brad Pitt, another of Brad who bullied them at school, and yet another - of their best friend Brad. You cannot account for every association a reader of yours might have from any name.

However, just like in Real Life I might meet a person named Brad and get to know him as quite separate from Brad Pitt, so your readers would get to know your character as quite separate from whatever image their previous connotations might have drawn.

  • 4
    While there are obviously always exceptions when talking about large scale phenomenons, there are general connotations about names. The reason for that is not that strange: Names picked by parents are strongly influenced by class, location and era. And clearly these things have an influence on the person. There's a chapter in freakonomics "The socioeconomic patterns of naming children" that deals with this in more detail. – Voo Jul 6 '18 at 10:51
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    @Voo In other words, stereotypes sometimes actually have some resemblance to reality. Who would've thunk it? – Eff Jul 6 '18 at 12:05
  • I agree with Galastel. Stick with 'Brad'; it sounds alright to me. – Cate Z. Jul 7 '18 at 12:50
22

Names definitely carry connotations. It may be totally unfair to the people having these names, but certain names bring up an image in our minds. For example, I would be very surprised to hear, "The winner of the Nobel prize in physics this year is ... Bambi Desire."

I've occasionally wondered if there's any real correlation. Does having a certain name influence one's behavior? Or are the sort of parents who would give you a certain name likely to pass on corresponding of genes, or raise you differently? I don't know. I wonder if anyone has done a sociological study on this. But regardless, I think it's something that's commonly in people's heads.

Unless you're trying to make a point against stereotyping, or trying to surprise the reader, I'd just go along with such expectations. Name the nerdy scientist "Dexter" and the mob enforcer "Bruno" and it will help establish the character in the reader's mind.

All that said, I've never associated "Brad" with "douchebag". Brad seems a fairly neutral name to me. I suppose that's part of the problem with this sort of thing: the associations in my mind are not necessarily the same as those in yours. They may be highly individual, or regional.

The name "Barney" immediately makes me think of the character from the Flintstones cartoon, Barney Rubble. That would make me unlikely to use the name Barney for a character in anything other than a comedy.

(I recall hearing a sermon once where the pastor mentioned a woman in the Bible named "Gomer". He then made a little side quip, "She was a very beautiful woman. Her name wasn't beautiful, but she was. Or maybe if you had known her, you would think of 'Gomer' as a beautiful name." I'm sure he had some deeply profound point, but that comment is all I remember of the sermon. Because I wonder: Yeah, do our associations with names come from something about the sound of the name itself, or from people we've known with that name or famous people with that name.)

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    "All that said, I've never associated "Brad" with "douchebag". Brad seems a fairly neutral name to me." -- Where you first encountered a name is very important in how its coloured for you. OP is in Europe, which means he likely hasn't personally met many Brads (it's a far more common name in the US than elsewhere), so it's very likely that a well-known fictional Brad was his first encounter with the name. This is a very plausible candidate... – Jules Jul 6 '18 at 8:35
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    @Walt How you name your kids is strongly influenced by age, race, location, income and education. So while a name might not influence a person, the environment in which they grow up certainly does. A girl called "Angel" has a significantly higher chance to be born into a low education household than a girl called "Beatrix". – Voo Jul 6 '18 at 11:12
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    @Jay You might find the 6th chapter in Freakonomics interesting then, which is about this topic. Quite the fascinating read and the argument is based on data. – Voo Jul 6 '18 at 16:42
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    @Obie2.0 You certainly can. But if your mild-mannered, timid librarian is named "Bruno Stormbringer", how many readers will just nod and go along and a blow will be won for fighting stereotypes, and how many will see this as a joke or at least irony? – Jay Jul 6 '18 at 16:43
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    "The name "Barney" immediately makes me think of the character from the Flintstones cartoon" I think of the dinosaur first. – JAB Jul 6 '18 at 22:27
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What assumptions do people in Brad's universe make about him based on his name? I recommend making them explicit. They can even differ from what the reader would otherwise impose themselves, and will be readily accepted as fleshing out that world. Better still, one of your subplots can be how they get him wrong, how it bothers him and what he does about it. How big a plot it will become is up to you, but don't worry if it ends up important; sometimes patching a concern flips a whole story on its head for the better.

7

How important do you consider using a contemporary English name? Your book is a fantasy story, probably set in a world similar to our medieval times, but with magic. Brad is a modern name which is a diminutive of Bradley, Bradford, Brady. These names were all pretty much created in the past 2 centuries. Having Brad as a name in a fantasy world to me sounds somewhat anachronistic and might somewhat distract me from the novel.

If I were you, I would try to find names from the time period and possibly region your book is supposed to invoke a fantasy version of. It would improve immersion into the story and can give you an opportunity to find a name that you like and likely has far less personality implications for a modern audience.


The OP has clarified they want to use the name to indicate Brad doesn't belong. This goal can still be achieved by using a name from an entirely different region than the one being fantasy invoked. This has the added advantage that fewer people will make unwanted connotations with the name, while still invoking the feeling of being a stranger.

  • There are many medieval names in my book, but Brad is an exception, which I deliberately did. He's supposed to stick out as someone who doesn't belong. – A. Kvåle Jul 6 '18 at 13:33
  • @A.Kvåle See updated answer for an alternative path. – Nzall Jul 7 '18 at 12:39
5

Call him Bradley. While "Brad" has douchey connotations (and that certainly sprung to my mind when I read the name), the longer form doesn't. Try it yourself. Then gradually introduce characters calling him Brad once you've established the characterization of him as not a douche.

In fact, you could hang a lampshade on it by having him comment that he doesn't like the short form on his name and insists that people call him "Bradley".

5

There are many names starting with B; here are 1000 most popular boys names. Do a CTL-F and search for "B" capitalized. I am sure you could google for others.

Yes, Brad will have a frat-boy vibe for as long as your story sells.

No, "Barney" is dufus; think of Barney Fife, Barney Rubble.

Perhaps Braydon, Benjamin, Brandon, Blake, Brody, Bryan/Brian, Brendan, Blaine, Brett, Bob/Bobby, Bill/Billy, Bjorn.

Edit: As David Richerby notes in commentary, the negative connotations of names will vary by culture. The Brad & Barney connotations may be a result of fiction clichés Americans are exposed to growing up through movies, TV series and commercials, and print. Many clichés, aphorisms, curse words, slang, obscenities, gestures, and insults are cultural, even in majority English speaking countries. Fictions can likewise be localized; some of it is good enough to be loved everywhere, but not all of it. Some relates specifically to life in America, the UK, Australia or Canada. Even India. That said, your biggest market for English is the USA (283M). I don't market books, but I'd guess the UK (60M), Canada (30M), Australia (17M) likely follow; even though several countries like India have more English speakers (125M).

  • In cultures that don't have frats (i.e., everywhere other than the US), Brad is unlikely to have those connotations. As a British person, I don't have any particular connotations around that name, except that Brad is probably American because the name's more common there than here. Likewise, I don't particularly associate Barney with being a doofus, even though I watched The Flintstones as a child and ohgodmakeitstopnotBarneytheDinosaur. That's kind of the point that you don't mention: connotations will vary very much between cultures. – David Richerby Jul 8 '18 at 8:43
  • @DavidRicherby True. I updated my answer in response. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jul 8 '18 at 12:01
2

LISA's main character is called Brad because Dingaling's father was called Brad, and he associated the idea of father with that name. He loved his father so much, he renamed his studio to LOVEBRAD after his father passed away. In some ways, LISA's Brad is fairly similar to your Brad, which is curious considering the idea Dingaling had of the name.

You can't control what people think of a name. I will even add that the idea someone has of a name depends only on themselves: who they know, what have they read, where they live... for example, I am from Spain, and here people will think of Brad Pitt if you ask them what pops up first in their head when you ask them what they think about the name. Likewise, "Jennie" will be associated with Spain's personal brand of guidos, whereas in the USA it is yet another female name; someone who has spent too much time on the Internet will think of Chad and Stacy as being big frat/sorority promiscuous douchebags, and so and so.

2

The science and technology section of The Economist recently summarized a scientific study about this issue. One of the conclusions of the study was that the name of a person definitely had an influence on how the person evolved.

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! Could you provide a link to the article you mentioned, and perhaps a few quotes from it to back up your answer? Right now, this feels like a link-only answer without the link. – F1Krazy Jul 6 '18 at 13:53
  • Statistics are not indicative of a guaranteed outcome. Even if 99 out of 100 people named "Brad" are a douche, that doesn't mean that OP's character called Brad is therefore a douche. (However, assuming the 99 out of 100 statistic, it would be fair to have the character assumed to be a douche by other characters, but that's a different discussion). While you can argue the connotation, you can't conclusively argue that "the name of this person definitely had an influence on how this person evolved". – Flater Jul 9 '18 at 14:10
  • Similarly, just because most wizards have beards doesn't mean that a beardless person cannot be a wizard. Statistics do not prove a causal link. – Flater Jul 9 '18 at 14:10
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Yes, the development of a character will thwart the false connotation a certain name brings, and you have supplied all the evidence for that.

The very fact that certain names have certain connotations indicates that something has produced those connotations. And what better candidate for that than the development of fictional characters!

I personally don't associate the name Brad with "douchebag", but that only indicates to me that I haven't been subjected to the same cultural influences that you have. I'm guessing that you have read about or seen a character (real or fictional) who is a "douchebag" and is called Brad? It can't really be someone in your personal life because if is was, you would not assume that other people (outside of your social circle) have the same impression.

You have several options moving forward, some of which are:

  • Choose a different name if you feel the link between Brad and "douchebag" is universal
  • Use misspellings of names in the same way that George R. R. Martin is purported to do in his Game of Thrones series
  • Use Brad on the understanding that you will change the world's perception of this name after the release of your novel.

There are probably other things you can do instead, but whatever you choose to do, I hope that it turns out well for you.

Good luck with your book.

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    For some reason in American movies designed to appeal to the high-school to college age crowd, 'Brad' is often the name of the popular but shallow, crude, loud and self-centered party animal leading the chugging of beer and objectification of women. I'm interested if your cultural environment has a different name for such a stereotype. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jul 6 '18 at 14:21
  • It's difficult for me to say, @Amadeus, partly because it's a while since I was at school and also because either (a) English teens are a little more reserved than their US counterparts or (b) they are not generally portrayed as being like their US equivalent in movies of that kind. I'm leaning towards the former statement. For what it's worth I perceive Brad as being a rugged, outdoorsy kind of a guy. Interesting how much difference being on the other side of a pond makes. :) – robertcday Jul 6 '18 at 14:43
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Yes, character development will thwart any preexisting opinions on "Brad", but why not transcend regular names altogether? Humans have evolved to pretty much accept any name (in fear of looking ignorant and therefore being the opposite of P.C.) from a stranger who is called by it.

Go with a hunky sounding, Scandinavian influenced (also completely made up by me) version of Brad such as "Bradde" Having a unique and foreign name will:

  1. instantly stick out, assuming every other character uses conventional names

  2. give readers something to talk and therefore argue about (pronunciation)

  3. He will I think be instantly likeable and hot sounding to women (blue eyed well hung blonde, most genetically resistant to an array of diseases) and badass to men (vikings....)

    He wouldn't even have to be strictly foreign by the way, its quite viable that he's of 2nd or I say at most 3rd generation Finnish, Norwegian/ Swede. After the 2nd and 3rd its likely his family would've adopted more common names. "Brad the Butcher" could still be used seeing as how the natives of the book would likely familiarize his name assuming it's going to be in some kind of publication (Brad the Butcher strikes again etc).

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