I am sure that if you are on any type of social media, you have seen pictures that look somewhat like this:
If you haven’t, take a moment to read the text. It’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Surprisingly so considering what the “words” are actually composed of. A few years ago, another similar piece was going around where the first letter and the last letter of the words were correct but the middle was all jumbled up and again, it was surprisingly easy to read. I was thinking about this earlier today and I said to myself, “It’s because our mind sees the shape of the words rather than each individual letter,” and I had an a-ha moment.
“That’s why naming our book characters similar names is foolish!!!”
Have you ever been reading a book where the two main characters have very similar names, ie, James and Jason? Those two names aren’t really alike, but after a few minutes your brain starts getting all confused about who is who and you can never keep them separate. I have literally given up on books because of that issue. The names “look” the same. They’re the same length. They both start with J, and they both have a’s, s’s, and m/n in them. Our brains would see them as identical as they raced through the text, eager to find out what happens next.
I have been very careful as I name the characters in my books: Riordan, Sunny, Finn, Doyle, Mrs. Howard, etc. They don’t look or sound alike at all and their last names, when provided, (Do butlers ever have last names?) are similarly unique.
But what if you’re a reader sucked unwillingly into a murder mystery where the protagonists are a set of triplets named, sadly, James, Jason, and Jasmine? Well, aside from throwing the book at the wall which would be my first reaction, you can train your brain to look at the names separately. What is different about the names? The last letter. Pay attention to that as you read and see the names as Js, Jn, and Je, and see if that helps. Once your brain notices that about the names, then it should be able to distinguish the three characters from each other without as much trouble.
Now, what does this have to do with substitution codes in the title of this blog piece? I think that seeing these two different ways of writing, the scrambled letters and the numbers for letters system, should make simple code breaking nearly impossible. When you break a code, you look for letter patterns such as “the,” “and,” and “tion” that repeat over and over again in the English language and those tell you how to break the rest of the code. With this ability to scramble letters or leave some numbers to substitute for the letters, I think that will no longer be a sure thing. Someday I would like to test my theory and see if I am correct!
So, writers, watch your naming! And readers, pay attention to bad naming patterns by the authors and teach your brain how to get around their failings and we’ll all be a lot happier in the end when we can tell our Jameses from our Jasons.