Ruined names: Tamerlane?
At what point do you consider a name too tainted to use? I'll use Tamerlane as a current example only because it's the name that got me thinking about it. I have a pretty major character in a finished novel currently going through the second editing process named Tamerlane. He's part of an extreme religious order that practices acts of (magical) terror on innocent people in a high fantasy novel. Fantasy or not, it's a little unfortunate.
When I heard the name of the Boston bomber that died last week, I have to admit my very first thought was, "Well, shit, is that all people are going to think if they ever read this stupid book?!"
His name was Tamerlan, not Tamerlane, but it's the first place my head went and I'm sure others would as well.
Obviously, historically Tamerlane has been around a lot longer than the most recent one, but I don't have a lot of faith in people's historical knowledge.
So what ruins a name? The scope of the atrocities committed by someone of the same name? Ex: Adolf
The rarity of their name? Ex: Timothy McVeigh didn't ruin Timothy, did Tamerlan Tsarnaev ruin Tamerlan/e?
Something else? Why are some names taboo and other names somehow survive the crimes committed by those with the name?
FWIW, I won't be changing my character's name, but I can't help but feel that it's... well, spoiled, at least for the next 30 (?) or so years.
I actually find this rather intriguing. Some names become unusable (like Adolf) while others don't. I've seen Roman being discussed on nameberry many time, people are wondering if they can use it due to the Polanski association (a man who is a great artist and did one wrong thins) but I've never seen anyone have trouble with Charles (although Charles Manson did some of the most horrible evil things ever). Ivan is too common only to be associated with Ivan the Terrible... and Joseph as well (Stalin). I think it's a mix, obviously a very common name will never be associated with only someone who did something very bad, but in the case of Adolf, that was not a rare name. After world war two the name Vidkun was banned in Norway because of a traitor (and that was a rare name).
I honestly didn't know the bomber was called Tamerlan, and people do forget these things rather quickly (not to diminish what happened).
I was quite curious to see the Norwegian name statistics from 2012 to see if the name Anders had gone down in popularity after the shootings in 2011, but I haven't found anything. And the name is probably too established anyway.
I think it depends how common or established the name is in the country/countries most directly affected by it, and how much attention the media gives to the perpetrators. For example, Charles and Timothy are perennially popular, so the Manson/McVeigh associations are only minor ones compared to all the other famous Charles and Timothys - Prince Charles, for example. I think with Adolf it was more the scale of the atrocity and the fact that in English speaking countries at least, it wasn't that well known or popuar, a bit like Saddam Hussein, where it's a much more popular first name in Islamic countries than in the US or UK. So for an English/American kid to be named Adolf or Saddam, where the general population only have the one, negative, association with the name, it will be much worse than Joseph or Ivan, who both did equally bad things.
With Tamerlan, it's interesting, because it's the sort of name that could have become more accessible in English speaking countries - it has a surname vibe, which is trendy right now, is easy to say and spell and is also uncommon - things a lot of parents might want. His brother has a much more difficult name which I don't think will ever be usable - from memory it's something like Dzokhar pronounced Jo-kar. How badly Tamerlan will be affected I honestly don't know. He's the dead brother, so I'd imagine subsequent media focus will be on the living brother, especially if or when it goes to trial.
I see I'm not alone in noticing the names too, I felt rather guilty to be noticing stuff like that. Tamerlan seemed to have potential too, with Tam as a nickname, etc.
I do think Tamerlan will be ruined, because it wasn't well known in the US when the bombings happened. I think how common the name is really plays a role. Now will it be usable in Europe ? Probably more so because people will forget faster, and also we are closer to countries where it is used more often.
I agree with essjay's analysis that for Adolf, the name wasn't that common in English speaking countries which is why it easily became taboo.
So good to know I'm not alone in my mania!
When I first saw the name, Tamerlan, I thought - What a cool name! Can't wait to share with the Berries - then, OMG! WHAT am I thinking? There was a bombing!
So we are a little obsessed!
Tamerlan/e is ruined though Timothy isn't because Timothy is a common name associated with many, many other non-McVeigh Timothys, whereas the Boston bombing is the first time most people have heard Tamerlan/e.
Whether or not to change the name of yr character is yr call, of course. I would, but it's not my book. Considering how unusual the name is, I agree that it will probably be off-limits for baby naming and most other uses for a long time to come.
While for right now Tamerlan is known for the Boston bombing, I don't think the terror he wrought was on a large enough scale to taint the name forever. (Think Adolf, Sadam, Ivan, Osama...)
Someone (who is in the right location, around enough people who were affected by the bombing) might wince at hearing a baby named Tamerlane over the next few months, I doubt that once the child grows up he'd be connected to the nefarious bomber.
Ah, see, when I think Roman my mind doesn't immediately go to Roman Polanski. I can see how people might feel it was ruined though. Here in the US, I've known 5 men named Roman! So it doesn't feel all that uncommon to me.
I agree that it's a mix: an uncommon name in combination with some pretty bad behavior usually ruins the name. Charles and Timothy are obviously much too common to be ruined. Although I would be interested in seeing if either name dropped in the charts considerably after they were caught. I've known a couple Ivan's, (one a cousin and we pronounce his name ee-VAHN in Spanish) and the other was called Ivan the Terrible in school, but it was friendly teasing, if I remember correctly.
With Joseph Stalin, I think it helps that most people refer to him as Stalin, rather than Joseph or Joseph Stalin. Hitler is pretty interchangeable. Adolf, Hitler, and Adolf Hitler all seem to be common ways to refer to him. I guess the same could be said of McVeigh and Manson, since I've heard people refer to them by their surname only, though Manson could also refer to the musician. I've always been bothered by the glorification of Charles Manson. I find it strange when I see people walking around with his face on their t-shirts. That's another subject though.
I agree completely that it's largely dependent on how many associations the culture has with the name, which is why Tamerlan/e worries me. It's such a wonderful name, so I hope it isn't ruined.
In regards to my character, I may edit some of what his religious order does, or I may not. I'm going to sit on it for a few months. I do mostly refer to him as Tam, which will help I hope. And then again, the likelihood of this ever getting published much less read by the general population isn't likely, so it's probably a moot point. Just one I was interested in.
Anyway, I've got my new kitty Oleander in my arms and he wants me to play, and his wish is my command! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
As someone who objects to the way media obsesses, almost idolizes, over these committers of horrible crimes: I had no idea his name was Tamerlan/e. I don't know anything about him, and I don't want to know anything about him. I know many people disagree, but I just can't help but feel that when I watch/read about the criminals behind things like this, I'm giving them the notoriety they sought. So I choose not to.
So for me, at least, no. The name Tamerlan/e isn't ruined.
This is an interesting topic, and it does make me wonder why some names are okay and some aren't. It's been several years now, but I remember watching a film about a little girl named Osama and reading that the filmmakers chose the name specifically to show that its just a name and we shouldn't fear names, or something like that (reminds me of Voldemort lol).
Too soon to tell.
That being said I don't see anyone in the US using it in the near future, but it's never been popular here anyways. It's common for names with bad associations to current events to drop in popularity. Hurricane Katrina caused the name Katrina to take a hit, however last year it was not far outside the top 1000. The combination of Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook shooting ruined Sandy, however that name hasn't been popular for years either.
Outside the United States Tamerlan might not be affected, this attack was pretty much a US event. People outside the country might not get such terrible associations from the name.