Sep 15 2010

Please Don’t Use “Guardian” as a Name for a Character, Rank, Group or Series

Published by at 12:02 am under Fixing Cliches,Writing Articles

When your hero joins an organization, I would highly recommend naming the organization something besides the Guardians, and making his rank something other than a Guardian, and above all naming the series and/or book something better than something like “The Guardian.”


1. It’s generic and forgettable.  “Guardian” can apply to pretty much every superhero, every Jedi-like character, every law enforcement character, every pseudo-governmental character like Harry Potter’s Aurors, most urban fantasy protagonists, a ton of fantasy protagonists (particularly in epic fantasy), and many anime/manga characters.  Using a word that is so poorly-tailored to your particular story will probably make your characters and plots feel pretty bland.  It is generally more effective to use a more descriptive name that provides more specific information about what the organization/position does or what the series is about, the threat they’re guarding against, who’s doing the guarding, what the mood of the story is like, what their modus operandi is like, etc. Here are some examples of names that are more informative and interesting than “the Guardians.”

  • Action Scientists of Tesladyne
  • Shadowpact
  • the Suicide Squad
  • Doom Patrol
  • Slayers and, sort of separately, the Scooby Gang (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
  • Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
  • Heroes, Inc.
  • Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos
  • the Office of Special Investigations
  • the Men in Black
  • the Ministry of Magic’s Aurors (Harry Potter)
  • the Authority

2. “Guardians” are wildly cliche. The following is a list of (mostly) novels that use “Guardian” or a close variation as a rank, team name, or series/novel title.

  • The Vampire Academy series
  • Awakening of a Guardian
  • The Riley Jensen, Guardian series (by Keri Arthur)
  • The Aisling Grey, Guardian series (by Katie McAllister)
  • The Guardian Circle
  • The Conor and the Crossworlds series
  • The Gift
  • The Diana Tregarde Investigates series
  • The Arm of the Stone
  • [updated] Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Guardian of the Threshold
  • Highland Guardian
  • A Guardian’s Possession, in the Guardian Heart Crystal series
  • Invincible
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • (I did not include anything related to “guardian angels” or “legal guardians” because those have distinct connotations).

3. I would particularly recommend against using “Guardians” in a book title or series name. First, so many books have guardian in the title that your readers may have trouble finding your book on Google or Amazon.  Additionally, you’ll be competing with a major media company on Google searches like [Guardian series]–good luck with that. If you are dead-set on using something as generic as guardians in a title or series name, I’d recommend adding an unusual, memorable modifier to help it stand out.  Maybe something like Savage Guardian or Illegal Guardian.

Writing exercise: Come up with a name for a group, a rank, a superhero, a series or a book that uses “Guardian” well.

39 responses so far

39 Responses to “Please Don’t Use “Guardian” as a Name for a Character, Rank, Group or Series”

  1. ekimmakon 15 Sep 2010 at 2:03 am

    The four Guardians of the Appocalypse?

  2. Inner Propon 15 Sep 2010 at 5:52 am

    This is a bad name I know, but the concept is ok (I think)

    National Guardians

    It’s a branch of each state’s National Guard that regulates, organizes and deploys superheroes.

  3. Contra Gloveon 15 Sep 2010 at 6:23 am

    I’ve got one:

    Guardian in My Soup

    PREMISE: A young magician has perfected the ability to summon guardian monsters after seven years of arduous research (comparable to what Andrew Wiles did to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem.) Unfortunately, he can only do so by cooking a scrumptious bowl of soup with at least one vegetable and one type of meat. When a magic-wielding narcoterrorist gang takes over his neighborhood, he has to put his cooking abilities to the test!

    TAGLINE: Half a teaspoon…between victory and defeat!

  4. Guardian7on 15 Sep 2010 at 7:06 am

    EXCUSE ME!!!????!!!! You… You leave my name alone you big ole wordy Bully!

    I got one…

    Guardian Variety.



  5. B. Macon 15 Sep 2010 at 10:18 am

    The “En Gardians”–a punny group of fencers-turned-superheroes?

  6. B. Macon 15 Sep 2010 at 10:25 am

    I like the concept of Guardians of [Undesirable Noun], like the Guardians of the Apocalypse or the Guardians of Idiocy or the Guardians of Ignominy.

  7. Inner Propon 15 Sep 2010 at 11:04 am

    Guardians of The Guardian Gate

  8. ShardReaperon 15 Sep 2010 at 11:08 am

    Guardians of Ga’Hoole?

  9. Guardian7on 15 Sep 2010 at 11:46 am

    Coast Guardians

    Armored Guardians

    Secret Guardians

    Home Guardians

    Sol Guardians

    and on… and on…

    Actually my name stems from the Guardians of the Galaxy (one of my favorite Marvel Teams – until Valentino started drawing them) There were six members of that team – Vance, Nikki, Charlie, Martinex, Yondo, Stakar (and Aleta shared the same body so I didn’t count either of them as the seventh member)… In homage to them I used the name Guardian7… Isn’t that a beautiful Origin story!

  10. ShardReaperon 15 Sep 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I still have no clue what that movie’s about. Or who it’s trying to cater to…then again, that’s a problem with most movies these days, but still.

  11. B. Macon 15 Sep 2010 at 8:06 pm

    The series of novels was named the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, which is possibly the weakest name for a series I’ve ever encountered. The novel titles weren’t much better (The Capture, The Journey, The Rescue, etc). So there was pretty much no way the movie’s title could have been better than awful, although I suspect they could have done better than Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.

    I think their best option would have been to change the name more significantly than they did, but that’s tricky because it can confuse fans of the source material. (For example, even something as slight as changing “Avatar: The Last Airbender” to “The Last Airbender” to avoid getting mixed up with Dancing with Smurfs probably lost some name recognition).

    I’m not really sure what inspired this post.

  12. Trollon 15 Sep 2010 at 9:07 pm

    The Guards of the eons… heh heh

  13. ShardReaperon 16 Sep 2010 at 9:58 am

    No, Last Airbender lost name recognition after the cast got their sheets mixed up and became other races.

  14. Lighting Manon 16 Sep 2010 at 10:03 am

    Well, they had to become other races than cartoon. Most cartoon actors aren’t popular any more and I don’t think Bob Hoskins would have made a good team-up in that movie, he might have seemed out of place.

  15. ShardReaperon 16 Sep 2010 at 10:30 am

    I mean the races of the characters. Sokka and Katara were clearly Native American and Zuko was clearly Asian. Makes no sense why they all became white and Indian.

  16. B. Macon 16 Sep 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t think it was clear that Zokka and Katara were Native American rather than Caucasian. If it was ambiguous, and I think it was, then I wouldn’t fault the movie-makers for going with one justifiable interpretation rather than another.

    The shading of Zokka and Katara above is pretty similar to what we used for Gary in The Taxman Must Die, and he’s so pale that Agent Orange confuses him for an albino at one point.

    My main concern about the cast was that they were spectacularly bad at acting. Admittedly, that’s a recurring problem with child actors (see Jake Lloyd’s performance as Mannekin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace), but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that a studio with a $150 million budget could find several talented teens for these roles. It’s not like they needed an outlandishly unusual trait, like the capacity to act in Aramaic or professional-grade singing talent* or the ability to play a dramatic character younger than 10. Incidentally, I vaguely remember reading that they picked the lead actor for The Last Airbender because of his martial arts skills, which I think is a mistake because that could have been outsourced to professionals.

    *Incidentally, Dr. Horrible’s Neil Patrick Harris and Passion of the Christ’s James Caviezel and The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment pulled off pretty strong acting performances even besides their unusual qualifications.

  17. ShardReaperon 16 Sep 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I don’t know how to post a picture, but trust me, they looked more Native American than white. Least, that’s what the picture on my tv looked like.

  18. Lighting Manon 16 Sep 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I honestly didn’t even remotely understand the controversy. Looking at all of the characters, only those above 50 have even the slightest hint of nationality, they all have large round eyes, varying skin tones within normal range for most races and most importantly, it is a fantasy world simply inspired by Asian elements, and not even central to a single country or culture within Asia, the title comes from India, the Fire Nation from what I saw were inspired by Japanese culture, with the armor, the Water nation from what I’ve seen seems to take a great deal from the Inuit, and so on down the line.

    I’ve never watched the show as I don’t particularly care for anime or anime inspired properties, but the whole controversy seemed similar to me as people insisting that as Jedi were inspired by samurai, they should all be played by people from Japan, even the aliens.

    If the entire series was done in the style of Theodor Geisel’s war propaganda, you might have a ticket, but as it stands, the characters are no more Asian than the sweet and sour chicken that I have in my fridge.

  19. B. Macon 16 Sep 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Gah-hool sounds intuitive to me. I assume that the E in Gah’Hoole is silent like it is in O’Toole. Incidentally, “tool” is the word that comes to mind when I read the above comment wondering about the target audience for this work.

  20. Lighting Manon 17 Sep 2010 at 7:55 am

    Oh dear god, I’ve just opened the Wikipedia page for the series, and the writer is a bad, bad, person! He has hurt me in ways I didn’t even know about. Random apostrophes, “slipgizzles” as a name for normal old spies, “bonk” instead of coal!

    It’s a crime! A poorly planned Eragonian owl series!

    I will most likely end up being forced to see the movie because of my family but I won’t be happy about it!

  21. ShardReaperon 17 Sep 2010 at 10:32 am

    I have no interest in that movie apart from Zack Snyder directing it. Watchmen was great, so he should be able to work his magic on this.

  22. superherofreak7on 17 Sep 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Hey, B. Mac, did you get the story I sent you?

  23. B. Macon 17 Sep 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Yeah, I just responded.

  24. superherofreak7on 17 Sep 2010 at 5:38 pm

    I sent you a longer version.

  25. ekimmakon 20 Sep 2010 at 2:48 pm

    There doesn’t seem to be an exact article on group names.

    I’m trying to think of a name for a street gang of meta-humans. My first idea was The Apocalypse Gang, but is there any better name I could use?

    They act as a sort of gray area opponent for the characters. While the protagonists use their powers to help people, these guys are strictly out for themselves. Becuase they often hire themselves out as metahuman merenaries, they come into conflict a lot. But they also team up with them on occasion, basically when both sides are in a cell.

  26. ShardReaperon 20 Sep 2010 at 4:29 pm

    If you wanted to keep it fairly simple, you could go with the Freelancers or the Lost Ones, since they’ve “fallen from the sides of good and evil.”

  27. Lighting Manon 20 Sep 2010 at 4:51 pm

    My naming schemes for street gangs always follow a simple pattern of, given that as street gangs, they most often started as youths, they wouldn’t choose anything too elaborate, so they take the first portion of their name from a local fictional or real land mark or location and then append something to the end to personalize it more.

    My graphic novel features, for instance, the Fleet Street Hooligans, Fleet Street being a literal street in my fictional city where they committed their first major crime, and Hooligans, as they are all descendants of Irish immigrants, there are also the Boot Hill Ratones, as they originate near the city’s primary cemetery and pride themselves on being sneaky and clever in how they carry out their activities.

  28. Kid Writeron 07 Aug 2013 at 11:02 am

    The Wimpy Guardians.

    Zero Star Guardians.

    Looser Guardians.

    I wasn’t originally going to have ‘Guardians’ in the title, because I already knew that it was overused and generic, but the last sentence gave me the idea of having the title be more in the comedy genre.

    So, should I use one of the above (or another) name instead of what I was originally thinking? I was also wondering if the subtitle: “We Suck” for any of them would work.

  29. B. McKenzieon 08 Aug 2013 at 6:47 am

    “So, should I use one of the above (or another) name instead of what I was originally thinking? I was also wondering if the subtitle: “We Suck” for any of them would work.”

    I’d recommend being very careful here.

    1) In most cases, a major part of the appeal of superheroes is that they get to do spectacularly awesome things. If your team is grossly incompetent, readers may quickly pass on them in favor of a team which actually gets to do spectacularly awesome things.

    2) Generally, incompetence and stupidity aren’t as funny to readers as they are to the writer. I’d be concerned if the title and/or subtitle was mainly written to point out how incompetent the team was. If I could use my own work-in-progress (The Taxman Must Die) as an example, I think it’s implied that the titular accountant is out of his depth, but I definitely wouldn’t make that the focal point of the title (e.g. “The Taxman Sucks At Being a Superhero”).

    2.1) I’d recommend checking out Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Zoolander, Austin Powers 1, and maybe The Tick* for examples of stories where the main character was less-than-competent but was still comedically effective. In particular, it’s NOT just the characters doing random dumb ****. That seems to be the main issue I’ve seen with manuscripts in this mould. “Wouldn’t it be funny if I had really bad superheroes with awful superpowers?” Actually, no. In particular, I would generally insta-reject over superpowers which are meant to be comedically bad.

    *Main reason for hesitation here: something like The Tick is a very hard sell…

  30. Kid Writeron 08 Aug 2013 at 7:01 am

    Alright. I’ll think over this. Thank you, B.Mac!

  31. Carloson 19 Dec 2014 at 5:42 am

    Well, guardians of the galaxy turned out well. But then again, that’s likely due to Marvel’s name coming with it.

  32. B. McKenzieon 05 Jan 2016 at 7:29 pm

    “Well, guardians of the galaxy turned out well. But then again, that’s likely due to Marvel’s name coming with it.” The larger your marketing budget, the less the title matters, I think. For movies (especially AAA movies), I don’t think the title matters much. With a Hollywood budget and ideally a kickass story, you can get away with movie titles as generic as “Alien” or “Outbreak.” I think this is also mostly the case for well-established authors.

    However, for minor comic books and novels, you’re probably relying more on impulse readers, and your title is going to be one of the few things immediately visible to an impulsive prospective reader in a store. A really generic title would probably not help.

  33. Cat-Vacuumer Supremeon 26 Jul 2020 at 1:38 pm

    Do you think the title (Dimensional) Guardian is okay? It wouldn’t be used often, and has to refer to a diverse group of people who each protect their home dimension. Since it’s simple and will be used sparingly, if ever, outside of my notes, do you think it would be too bland?

  34. B. McKenzieon 26 Jul 2020 at 3:33 pm

    CVS: “Do you think the title (Dimensional) Guardian is okay?” Could you give a few examples of what you might fill the blank with?

  35. Cat-Vacuumer Supremeon 26 Jul 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Ah, I meant that the dimensional is unspoken, but there. Sorry for the confusion.

  36. Cat-Vacuumer Supremeon 26 Jul 2020 at 4:17 pm

    It should only come up when referring to them as a group, or an unknown guardian.

  37. B. McKenzieon 27 Jul 2020 at 6:00 pm

    So, it would only come up in story and not as the title of the book? If so I think that’d be a less pressing issue. I’d suggest seeing how it feels in the context you’re using it. If hypothetically you saw yourself using the title 50+ times over the novel (like how cop/war stories might occasionally refer to characters by their rank) I think “the Guardian” and “Guardian Smith” are stiffer than a rank like “the lieutenant” or “Lieutenant Smith”. If it only came up a few times I don’t think this would be a big issue though. Alternatively, in context a stiff feel might even be helpful —- I really like X-Men’s use of “Sentinel” for giant hunter-killer robots and it sounds exactly like something a government agency would come up with. But it’d be a pretty bland team name or character name, possibly because it sounds exactly like something a government agency would come up with.

  38. Cat-Vacuumer Supremeon 28 Jul 2020 at 8:32 am

    Thanks! I think it’ll come up more in situations like “we need to find another guardian” or “who’s the new guardian.”

  39. B. McKenzieon 29 Jul 2020 at 9:21 pm

    I think it’s alright as at least a placeholder. If something more distinctive comes to mind you can compare then, but I don’t think this is a high priority issue. At worst, there’s some genericness and maybe some smoothness issues in more casual contexts.

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