- Hi my name is Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way...
- —My Immortal, Chapter One
A speshul name is exactly what it sounds like: a name that plays a part in making a character speshul. To be more clear, this type of name was intended to provide a special flair or descriptive touch to characterization, but falls flat as a plea for notability or attention instead.
There are many types of speshul name, and the most common will be discussed below, but one factor all speshul names have in common is that they bend canon and/or strain suspension of disbelief in the story they appear in.
Speshul names are bad not just because they make most readers with sense go 'argh,' but also because they often devalue the name's carrier by indirectly appealing to the readers to judge that character on their name, something that the character (usually) had little to no control over, rather than any true merit or personal strengths.
Having a speshul name can be part of the charge of being speshul, but if the name itself is particularly canon-breaking/implausible/otherwise bad, having a speshul name may become a charge in of itself. It is possible to have a speshul name and not be a Sue/Stu, so it cannot stand alone as a defining point of a charge list.
There is a difference between speshul names and special/unusual names. It is perfectly normal for parents to give a child a name with a specific meaning in mind, or to give a child a name with a unique spelling or sound. However, a character with a special name isn't impacted by that name beyond what would make sense (being teased on the playground, perhaps), and they certainly don't 'match' their character traits to the name. A character with a special or cool name might be special or cool... but because they are a special or cool character, NOT because their name is an indicator as such.
For example, a child might be named 'Raven' for their hair, or because the mother fancied the name... but it is an entirely different story for an author to name a character Raven solely to add to their credit as a forlorn, angry, gun-toting mercenary who brings death in her wake. In real life, it is just as likely that that mercenary could be named 'Lucy' or 'Samantha', but in bad fiction, that may not be the case.
There is a difference between a character that just happens to be named something unusual and a character that relies on their possibly inappropriate-for-setting name to promote an image or cliché.
As a rule of thumb, if the name makes you want to puke, it is probably speshul.
Of course, it is entirely possible for a person to change his or her name in Real Life and many other continua, and this may be used to give oneself a name that describes one's character. It's also entirely possible for a character to prefer to be referred to by a nickname (a notable example being Miles "Tails" Prower.) Having such a name given to you at birth, however, is just silly, as it requires the parents to be able to see their child's future to witness what kind of person they will grow up to be. Unless this is actually possible in the continuum in question, it is an indication that the name is speshul.
Noun or Verb Name
People have been named after things and deeds since early human history. However, speshul names take this to an annoying extreme. Where a normal person might be named 'Smith' or 'Lily', a Mary Sue might pick the name 'Dragon', 'Killer', or 'Rosebay' to indicate something about them: be it competency at a job, or their beauty/gentleness. At the most extreme, an agent might encounter Sues/Stus named something like 'Poke-Mon.'
Although a normal character might be named after anything, the point is that the speshul variation of this name will always be a try at making the character 'cooler' or 'better' than it otherwise would be. If a character would lose some of their characterization if named something normal, if they cannot function without their name, then be very suspicious. Especially if they're named after gods or goddesses.
Canon Character Variation Name
A very easy way to be a 'special' character is to be somehow related to a canon character, even if in name only. There are a few ways this can happen. Sometimes it's a gender-flipped version of the canon name. Sometimes a surname is appropriated in order for the character to belong to a certain family that wouldn't otherwise have another member. The rule of thumb is that the character is supposed to appear more important simply by having a name relation to a canon character.
Most often seen in Duplicate Sues, this name is outright stolen from another canon to try and invoke that canon's coolness in a fanfic. The agent Derik once had a cameo name in his home fanfic, but he was never a Stu.
Most often seen in self-inserts or author avatars, a character might be named after their author's user name. This may prove to be a problem if a character wants us to believe they were born with this name, or says nothing about the name and the whole world treats it as a normal name. It's hard to believe anybody, from World One, to Arda, to Hogwarts, to the Mushroom Kingdom, could refer to a person named 'Leggyluvr22', 'Spidey3000', or 'bloodywolf' with a straight face.
Most names mean something, but that meaning is hardly ever important in real life, nor is it often a good 'fit' for the person the name belongs to. Meaning names ignore that. If a character is strong, they are given a name meaning 'strong.' if a character is beautiful, they are given a name meaning 'beautiful.' In real life, the chances of a name's meaning fitting its owner to a T are very small.
No, this is not being named after an expletive. Many characters are named inappropriately for the setting they were supposed to be born in. An Arda elf named Stephanie, for example. Being named after an expletive is also probably bad, though.
For some reason, a common variation of this is the presence of Japanese names where they should not be. Likely due to the spread of anime and Japanese pop culture, there are far more characters named 'Hikari' and 'Sakura' than would otherwise make sense. These appear even in settings that do not contain Japan or an analogous setting that uses a Japanese name scheme.
Cat-on-the-keyboard names are names that look as if the creator had let a cat walk across the keyboard and used the resulting string of characters as a name. These names are often very hard to pronounce and are just stupid in general. They are a common result of using an automatic name generator while, presumably, either drunk or stupid. They have occasionally appeared in good comedy fics, but these are rare.
Some prime examples of cat-on-the-keyboard names are Shrrgnien, Gryvbsten Sanpeter, Grignr, Thrnos, TIOSEAFJ, Cthulhu, El Kadsre, and Az Sweldn Rak Anhuin. And yes, those are all from works published either in print or on the Internet.
A name may make a reader groan, but it might not be exactly speshul if the context is taken into account. Here are some ways that an otherwise out of place or ill-advised name might be acceptable:
- This is a humor story. The name is purposefully bad.
- A character chose this name for themselves, or was awarded this name. This doesn't mean the name is instantly good (there are plenty of stupid aliases and nicknames), but it may make more sense than if they were given it at birth.
- Characters react to this name realistically. This may mean repulsion, bemusement, or riotous laughter depending on the ridiculousness of the name.
- The name is a title, and common to the canon setting.
- The name follows a scheme that fits in with other names in the canon.
- This is a really good story that performs a minor miracle and somehow keeps you from laughing at it.
- Speshul names are often found on characters with speshul eyes to boot.