What’s in a name?

I read a thought-provoking article the other day in Stylist, on a crime writing prize judged by grande dame herself Ruth Rendell.  What was fascinating to me were the trends that evolved from the entries.

Firstly, many of the protagonists were red-haired (or flame-coloured, crimson, ruby, scarlet, auburn, burgundy – depending on the thesaurus to hand.) This does not surprise me. I would say that in roughly 80% of the books I’ve read in the past ten years featuring a strong female protagonist, she has been described as a redhead. Considering only 1-2%  of the world’s population are red-haired, this may present a rather skewed literary history, if for instance aliens were doing their Earth research by reading novels a millions years from now. I’d also hazard a guess that most of the heroines of contemporary women’s romance novels are defiantly un-blonde (usually ‘chestnut’), although the villains are often fair. A fierce anti-stereotype perhaps?

The other interesting point that came up is that more than 30 of the entries featured a protagonist called Kate. Is this the Middleton, Moss and Winslet effect? Does ‘Kate’ (especially one with red hair) suggest a girl-next-door character with tough crime-fighting credentials that readers can easily identify with? Is ‘Kate’ the female ‘James’ Bond?

I’ve just finished reading The Expats, by Chris Pavone  (excellent by the way!) and indeed the CIA operative/devoted, laundry-folding mum/heroine is called Kate, as is the heroine in the equally brilliant, spy-tastic Every Secret Thing, by Susanna Kearsley.

I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on this? Any other spy heroines called Kate that you’ve come across? And have you noticed a dominance of redheads in novels?

Lara Crisp, Managing Editor

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