Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Power of K

I originally posted this blog on BookBitch about eight months ago, but yesterday I read a manuscript that had eight or more characters whose names started with K. So I realized it was worth posting again.

Marketers and comedians have long taken advantage of the powerful K sound. The K sound is especially emphatic at the end of word, which is why Jack and f**k are both so fun to say. Can you think of a comedian who can get through his/her material with saying f**k or jerk or some variation of jack (jackoff, jackass, jackshit)?

Crime writers (maybe all writers) love the K sound too, they just may not realize it. Think about the name Jack for protagonists. Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher, Jack Keller, Jack Taylor, Jack Davis, Jack Carpenter, Jack Irish, and Jack Palms to name just a few. Then there’s Taylor Jackson and my own Detective Wade Jackson. Not to mention the Jakes (Jake Riley, Jake Riordan, Jake McRoyan, and more).

The X sound is really K with a little S on the end, so Alex is almost as popular with crime writers: Alex Cooper, Alex Cross, Alex Archer, Alex Delaware, Alex Duarte, Alex Bernier. And Cooper and Cross are both pronounced with the K sound. Then there’s Kinsey Milhone and Greg McKenzie, which has a trifecta of winning sounds: the double K sound and the popular Z. Marketers like Z almost as well as K.

There’s plenty of K sounds in other protags too: Lincoln Perry, Lucas Davenport, Elvis Cole, Kelly Jones, Joe Pike, John Cardinal, Michael Kowlaski, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby. Apologies to the hundreds that I’ve likely missed.

In my recent novel, THE SEX CLUB, which has both K and X sounds in the title, the main characters are Detective Jackson and Kera Kollmorgan. Jackson’s daughter’s name is Katie. In women’s fiction, Kate is the female equivalent of Jack—a short, powerful K name (Kate London, plus many others).

It’s not just me. Author Jack Getze has a protag named Austin Carr who encounters a bad guy named Max, whom he calls Creeper. In as single scene, he writes about Carr and Creeper as well as an AK-47, Alka-Seltzer, a stockbroker, an Escalade, a Caddy, and a Lincoln.

Another writer told me, “I had so many K names in my first book I had to change all but one.”

What is it about the K sound that we like so much? One amateur theory is that as babies, we all heard a lot of K words and noises: cootchie-coo, cutie-pie, cuddles, etc. But it could be that this is simply one of those things that is hard-wired into our brains from human experiences long ago. Whatever the reason, readers and writers like the sound K, so keep it coming ... just not all in the same book. And give Jack a rest.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Interesting post, L.J. I noticed that you were also writing on (K)ristmas. :)That's the subject of my latest post, "A Solid Writing Schedule."


Neil Plakcy said...

Interesting-- I have a ton of K characters in my books too, but that's partly because there are only 12 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet. Maybe that's why I was drawn to the name Kimo!

Neil Plakcy

Holly Jahangiri said...

What about J? Most of my characters seem to have names starting with K or J. (Ironically, that's also my daughter's initials. Yes, the character names clearly favored J's and K's even before she was born.) Your explanation of K makes sense; it IS a "powerful" sound, strong and straightforward and blunt. K makes no apologies, it doesn't sugarcoat things. T is similar, but gets all mushy and wishy-washy when H gets close to it.

So, what about J? I see you have a lot of J's there, too. Does it just go well with K, like fine wine with cheese?

Holly Jahangiri said...

See Neil's comment? Even in an alphabet with only 12 letters, K makes the cut.