On BabyNames.Com, they have a page with tips for writers on naming characters. Tip number six, to avoid overused names, accuses every writer of naming their protagonist “Jack” while at the same time calling it an enormous faux pas. They claim that “naming your hero Jack is like naming your son Aidan. It’s overdone.” They encourage the writer to be more creative so that the character will be more memorable.
I take serious issue with this advice in regards to the name Jack, and let me explain why. Jack, as a character, is not an overused name. Jack is an archetype. In fact, Jack the hero has his own Wikipedia page. When you name your character Jack, it’s not a cop out because you lack the creativity to name him something better. It’s more like rising to a challenge to reinvent the morally ambiguous, trickster Jack that we all know and love.
Take my character Jack Remy. He fulfills all of the standard hero-Jack rules of being a joker and a player, manipulative and cunning while at the same time he is a character full of sorrow that has no remedy. His broken spirit is what drives him more than his Jackness, but he is still a Jack. There’s no other name for him. He’s a new take on an old archetype. Of course, this is also the novel I’m writing/experimenting with for the sheer purpose of exploring fantasy archetypes and putting pressure on them with more realistic characters. If a story ever needed a Jack to be a whole story, it’s this one.
Other names are overdone today, and you see them just as much in literature as you do in the Social Security Administration’s lists of popular baby names. Names like Bella and Edward, for example, have risen in popularity dramatically since the explosion of Twilight (which is a shame, in my opinion), and please stop naming your romantic leads Jane and your pregnant teenagers Mary.
Jack is a special name in the English language. A Jack-of-all-trades might carry a jackknife, a car jack, a jackhammer, and a jack-in-the-box in the back of a car that he hijacked from the Brit with a Union Jack in the window. While driving down the road in October, he might pass a jack straw or a jack o’lantern, and if he plays cards, he’ll have a jack of spades for sure.
This is an huzzah to Jacks. The good Jacks, the bad Jacks, and the confusing Jacks that we just can’t help but trust, even though he might betray us. This is to the Jack who slayed a giant, the Jack who captained a pirate ship, the Jack who killed a bunch of women in London in the 1800s, the Jack who helped a bunch of people kill themselves, the Jack who founded beat poetry, the Jack who made Kung Fu Panda, the Jack who worked with Marilyn Monroe, the Jack who was President of the United States (and his wife Jackie), the Jack who died in the icy aftermath of the Titanic, the Jack who was lost on an island with the rest of his flight cabin. To Jack Daniels, To Jack McFarland, to Jack Bauer, to Jack Tripper, to Jack Frost, to Jack Skellington, to Jackie Chan, to Jack-Jack Parr, to Jack Pumpkinhead, to Jack Merridew. To Jack and Jill, Jack Sprat, Little Jack Horner, Jack Be Nimble. To Big Jack, Happy Jack, Jack and Diane, Hit the Road Jack. To Jack.
If your character’s name is Jack, if he’s crying out and begging to be Jack, don’t force him to be someone else. Take on the challenge of Jack.
Updated 4/20: I am Jack’s overused and exhausted mind.