Chat Between Chapters: Name Dropping In Books

February 9, 2014 Chat Between Chapters, Featured Posts 45


 Listing actual brand names, real movie titles, referencing music groups/songs by name: Does this add to the book or limit it?

Rose review avatar Rose:

Okay… so you are reading this book and everything is going along swimmingly and then BAM! a big fat name drop. It will go something like this:

They snuggled on the couch together, hand in hand, sneaking tiny touches and exchanging giggles. They watched the Princess Bride and even splurged on a bowl of pop corn.

Now then, did knowing which movie the couple watched add to the scene in any way, shape or form? In my opinion, if you can exchange said name brand with a generic word, then it is probably not necessary to mention brand name and in fact can even date a book or worse, alienate a reader. I admit, name dropping is a major distraction to me. So, in going with my example above, the title of the movie could easily have been substituted with a brief description of the movie:

They snuggled on the couch together, hand in hand, sneaking tiny touches and exchanging giggles. They watched an old cheesy fairy tale that each had loved as a pre-teen nearly two decades ago and even splurged on a bowl of pop corn.

So, which one worked better for you? I like the second version. I am not distracted by a movie title I possibly do not know. Also, I get a better idea of what the author was trying to get across in the second version rather than the first. I think the only time mentioning a brand name really works is if the book, or movie or song or item being mentioned by brand name, title, etc is a major part in the book. Then it works. But if a book, movie, song, or item is mentioned only once by brand name/title, then it is annoying to me. It is unnecessary and I think it even takes away from the book.  I feel like the author is almost trying to use that brand name to paint an image that he or she is unable or unwilling to take the time to describe. There are so many of these instances in New Adult books and romances.  YA books will mention a lot of music by name, but YA books tend to make the title of the song important so it is not as distracting. But a lot of time, in NA books, a couple will be having a romantic evening and dance together at a club and the author name drops the song they danced to and it will undoubtedly be a relatively current indie rock song and then the author never goings into further detail or mentions the dance ever again. So annoying. It is like basically the author is telling me, don’t count on me to set the mood, but here listen to this song if you want to know what the characters were experiencing. I mean, if you are going to name drop songs in your books, then why even share your playlists? Now, so as not to confuse anyone, keep in mind that name dropping to me, is when an author adds a brand name to a sentence that otherwise does not need it. The characters do not remark on it much and it means little to nothing to the storyline. Colleen Hoover’s book, Slammed does use the Avett Brothers in her book and even includes some of the band’s lyrics, but this is NOT an example of name dropping in my opinion. The lyrics are mentioned before each chapter begins and their songs are a big part of Will and Lake’s story.  In this case, mentioning the bands name works and even adds to the book.


Julie Review Avatar Julie:

I have to admit I probably haven’t noticed this being done very much. I guess most of the time unless I actually know the brand/movie/band/etc I probably miss the reference and won’t catch the meaning. I definitely think a story line shouldn’t use a name of something that has emotions attached to it, but should instead be crafted in a way for the reader to experience those emotions with the characters. I guess I can see where some writers who may not be as skilled yet might use namedropping to “cheat” and convey certain moods and feelings. I don’t think that’s the right way to go (goes against showing not telling) but it can probably work in some situations if used sparingly or as an Easter egg for the reader (so only the cool people who get the reference will feel extra special). I think no matter what tricks are used in a book to convey a meaning, the writing style, plot building, and character development need to stand on their own.

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45 Responses to “Chat Between Chapters: Name Dropping In Books”

    • Rose

      Thanks Chene… I like it when the name drop is sneaky, like not right in your face… sorta like how Colleen Hoover inserted The Sea of Tranquility into her book, Hopeless. THAT was awesome!

    • Livia

      I’m like Chene. I get a kick out this writing style and I enjoy looking up actual places, songs, etc. if I feel like it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I learned early on to stop looking up songs referenced in one author’s books because I tended to not like the musical style although I enjoyed the lyrics and saw how they fit a particular scene.

  1. Giselle

    Interesting post and with your examples I kind of like the 2nd one better, too. I get the point of pop culture refs in books, but sometimes it’s overdone or it just tries to hard. Maybe they’re hoping that epic fans of whatever’s mentioned will relate better to the characters or situation etc, but I don’t think it’s necessary most of the time.

  2. Sarah @ The Bluntest Blog

    NICE TOPIC!! I don’t find that the name dropping in books really bothers me. If it’s a brand, book, movie, store, etc that I am familiar with then I feel like I get a better understanding of the character. BUT I think it depends on the context of the name drop. It is appropriate and applies – I don’t mind. Inappropriate and adds nothing useful to the character/situation – then why bother?

  3. Mariko @ The Storybook Kingdom

    Well first, I LOVE the Princes Bride so that one connected better for me. PB gives me warm fuzzies. As far as the question goes, I think it depends on how it’s done. If we’re talking name dropping left and right, then I don’t like it. A few here and there don’t bother me. It helps me relate and feel like we all live in the same world. It also helps draw me into whatever world or story is being created because I recognize a small part of it.
    Mariko @ The Storybook Kingdom recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #10: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

    • Rose

      Interesting point. The name dropping helps make you feel more connected. I never thought of it that way before. Makes sense. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rose

      Karen, I think that sometimes an author can allow a little brand name to cameo in a book, but it should not call attention to itself.

  4. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I don’t have a general opinion on this one. In some books, I really like that brand names are used to give a sense of time and place. Other times, I don’t even notice them. Clothing brands especially just go right by. Occasionally, I find them intrusive and I can share your feeling that the author is trying to hard. I wouldn’t know what advice to give an author to avoid falling into that category for me though.
    Katie @ Doing Dewey recently posted…Literary Love 2014 – 5 Reasons Everyone Should Pick Up A Book

    • Rose

      Intrusive. That is exactly how I would describe 99 percent of all name dropping in fiction. Thanks!

  5. Julie

    I think that name dropping can be good or bad. It depends on what brand, item you are using in your writing. For example, ‘She is reading a book while sipping a cup of Starbucks coffee.’ I think in that situation it doesn’t matter if you say Starbucks or just coffee. In that sentence, I can imagine the women sitting in Barnes and Noble reading a book and drinking a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
    Julie recently posted…Red Velvet

    • Rose

      I am going to disagree with you Julie. I think in the example you provided, it is unnecessary to use “Starbucks” in order to describe the coffee. I do not think it really matters, and in those cases, the name drop should be avoided…

  6. Joules (from Pocketful of Joules)

    I actually like it when writers ‘name drop’ because it helps me have a crisper picture of the scene. The only time it backfires is when you’re reading a book from the 80’s or 90’s and the name dropping is so dated that it reminds you to imagine everyone with terrible hair! =)

    Visiting from SITS Comment Love!

  7. Julie

    In my opinion name dropping can make a book dated, tied to a particular era. And to me is a sign of a not so good author. I think good authors, who strive for a classic feel, wouldn’t include do name dropping.
    Julie recently posted…New Knit Hats

    • Rose

      Julie, I do not know if I agree completely, but I do know that a lot of readers would agree with your statement. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Kim

    If the author of a book wants for it to be timeless, then I don’t think they can drop names and do that successfully. If the book is obviously set within a certain period (like the 50’s for example), then dropping a few well known references adds to the feel of the period- I think about the movie Grease, (I know not a book, but you catch my drift) and it wouldn’t have been the same without the references to Sandra D or Frankie Avalon- If anything, hearing those references for the first time in middle school made me learn a little more about the pop culture of my parents’ era! Other times, like in the example you illustrated in your post, I agree with you, the reference can weaken the story, so I think it all depends! Visiting from the #SITS comment love.
    Kim recently posted…Monsters

    • Rose

      Thanks for the input, Kim. I do think name dropping has a place in some stories, but it must serve a purpose and not merely act a substitute for creating a vibe or emotion that the writer did not otherwise take the time to write out.

  9. Stephanie@Fairday's Blog

    I do agree that the second example is probably easier for more people to relate to, but unless a book is sprinkled with a lot of name dropping I don’t know- I haven’t noticed. I do like when names of classics are mentioned in books because I can usually connect to them. This is a post that will give me a lot to think about. 🙂
    Stephanie@Fairday’s Blog recently posted…Monday’s Riddle: Movement of the Moment…

    • Rose

      Glad to make you think. Now watch, you are going to start paying closer attention and noticing all these different instances on name dropping in the next book you read. haha.

  10. K. Elizabeth @ YUMMommy

    I think it all depends on how it’s written. In some books like Bergdorf Blondes, the name dropping was necessary to build on the characters and their obsession with living luxurious lifestyles and keeping up appearances. It can be overdone though. But overall, I don’t think that dropping names takes away from a book.

    Stopping by from the SITS Comment Love Tribe btw.
    K. Elizabeth @ YUMMommy recently posted…4 Ways To Teach Our Children About Black History Month

  11. Berls

    Hmmm interesting question. So with the example above I guess I like the first one better actually, because I’m a fan of the Princess Bride. I instantly connected with the couple because they were watching something I loved. However, I think for it to be really effective it would be better if the two scenarios were combined. Let the people who will get excited by the name drop enjoy it, but make sure the meaning is clear so that those who won’t recognize it still appreciate the scene. I think lol
    Berls recently posted…WIR | Dark Lover (part 4)

  12. Sarah Arlene

    I’m pretty dense when it comes to a lot of things in pop culture, so name dropping does bother me when I feel like I’m missing out on a scene because I’ve never watched the Princess Bride. But nine times out of ten it doesn’t bother me a bit. I think it also depends on the type of product they mentioned, like if they sat on the couch and shared a Pepsi, that’s totally brand name placement to me. And there really isn’t an alternative way to say they shared Pepsi (as opposed to Coke or Dr. P or some other brand) because how do you go about describing a brand of soda? I guess what I’m saying is, if the name drop is interchangeable with an alternative description, like you exampled, it’s usually OK, but if it’s something like soda where they could have just said soda instead of Pepsi then it causes me to roll my eyes. Very interesting topic!! 🙂
    Sarah Arlene recently posted…Some Thoughts on: Books I wasn’t allowed to read as a kid

    • Rose

      I feel like a reader should never feel like they are missing out on a scene simply because they do not know the item which was named dropped.

  13. Stefani

    I’m 50 – 50 about this. Sometimes I don’t mind it at all. Other times I stop reading and listen to see or watch the said movie trailer on Youtube. In this case it’s distracting.

    I like the example Rose has given. The picture in my head after reading that sentence is certainly prettier than with the name. I don’t know that movie so I would’ve been obliged to stop reading and check it out.

    To sum it up – if I were an author I wouldn’t give the names. Guess I’m not 50 – 50 after all.

    Stefani recently posted…A Tragic Wreck Release Week Blog Party – Day 6

    • Rose

      Yes, name dropping can be distracting and even exclude some readers. Like you said, if you didn’t know the referenced “name” dropped, then you would feel obliged to stop reading and check it out.

  14. April @ The Steadfast Reader

    Great topic! I guess for me it depends on the book and (sometimes) the name dropped. When I see a brand/movie/music (etc) of something I love name dropped (especially when it’s obscure) I get a little thrill. But you’re so right that it can date a book, especially in classics it CAN get tiresome.

    On the other hand the second sentence feels a little bit more cumbersome, but perhaps that’s because I’m familiar with The Princess Bride (even though I’m one of only four people that doesn’t like it 🙂 )

    So, my lawyerly answer is: ‘it depends.’ 🙂 Thanks for linking up!
    April @ The Steadfast Reader recently posted…Spread the Love Linky Party 2.0: Week One

    • Rose

      YOU DONT LIKE THE PRINCESS BRIDE!??? haha jk, Thanks for commenting. I sometimes am guilty of liking a name drop if it is something really obscure and I feel so special to get the reference.

  15. Ula @ Blog of Erised

    Ooooh good topic!
    I hate name dropping! I once read a book full of Wikipedia quotes, and one full of brands (red Mazda, Red Bull, her Lacoste clothing etc.) and it was so so tiresome!
    The paragraph you ‘fixed’ is so much better; with no names and no definitions, just a vague description. You can fill in the blanks yourself.
    I’d prefer ‘red sports car’ and ‘energy drink’ and just plain old ‘French designer clothes’ and so on. Muuuuch better, because it doesn’t draw attention.
    Ula @ Blog of Erised recently posted…You’ve got mail!/Showcase Sunday/Stacking the Shelves/Owl Post

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