The Name Game

What’s in a name? Shakespeare’s Juliet says “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Hmm. True, or not? Sorry Juliet, but if your name had been say, Mildred, would you be the same character? Would we even think of you in the same way? Romeo and Mildred just doesn’t have the same ring.

We often get an instant impression of someone just by learning their name. Think of meeting a Frieda or Spike or Priscilla. Whether it turns out to be accurate or not, c’mon, don’t you start getting a feeling right away for the kind of person they might be? A name can define a time or generation, such as a girl named Madison or one named Ethel. Or Morrie or Dylan. And a name can make us recall someone we knew. The name Beth will always evoke the memory of my next door neighbor and first friend in kindergarten.

Many young readers have asked me how I came up with the name Calli for the main character in my 2011 middle grade novel, Calli Be Gold. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure. It sort of just popped in my mind as I was thinking about the story, and I knew that was this character’s name. Calli’s dad goes around the dinner table every night and asks his kids for their accomplishment of the day (he’s an intense, competitive kind of guy), and he does this in ABC order. Calli’s brother is Alex and her sister is Becca, so I wanted a name that started with C. Plus, at the time, I hadn’t heard of another middle grade book with a main character named Calli.

hello-my-name-is[1]Authors use different techniques to come up with original, meaningful, and creative names for their characters. Some have those lightning bolt moments while others painfully search for just the right name. I recently heard Margaret Peterson Haddix speak at my local library and she said that often, as she’s writing, a name just comes to her (hey, we have something in common!), but when she’s stuck, she uses baby name websites. I’ve done that too. I’ve even looked through my kids’ school directory to find unusual first and last names.

However a character is named, aren’t there some that are unforgettable? I know there are for me! Here is my top ten list of favorite middle grade character names:

10. Stanley Yelnats (Holes by Louis Sachar). Who can resist that clever backwards twist?

9. India Opal Buloni (Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo). I love the flow, the first and middle names, and how the last name sounds like bologna!

8. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern (One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia). Okay, these have to be the best sister names ever.

7. Bubba Sanders and Lamar Washington (How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen). Bubba and Lamar. Now these are guys you want to hang out with!

6. Beezus and Ramona (Ramona series by Beverly Cleary). Who couldn’t adore a girl named Beezus?

5. Moose Flanagan (Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko). Wouldn’t every kid want to read about someone named Moose?

4. Turtle (Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm). Instantly makes you want to give this girl a hug.

3. Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee (Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli). Immediately lets you know about this character.

2. Wahoo Cray, his dad Mickey Cray, and his friend Tuna Gordon (Chomp by Carl Hiaasen). However unlikely, I just think these are hilarious.

And my #1, absolute all-time favorite is…

1. Pippi Longstocking! (Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren). This has nothing to do with the fact that when I was 10, my frizzy, sticking-out braids exactly resembled Pippi’s. But we’ll leave that story for another post.

Write a comment and let me know your favorite character name!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011) and The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, coming spring 2014).

9 responses to “The Name Game

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  2. Some of my favorite character names come from Dog Friday by Hilary McKay–the hilarious Robinson children: twins Peregrine and Antoinette (called Perry and Ant), Sun Dance (a nickname that has stuck so completely we never find out his *real* name), and Beany (real name Elizabeth, but called Beany because she used to want to be a bean). Dog Friday is, actually, my absolute favorite MG novel . . . an older and perhaps lesser-known book of Hilary McKay’s. Even the dog (the title character!) has an awesome name!

  3. Thanks Jill! Love those character names too 🙂

  4. Oh this is a fun post! Neat idea.
    It’s funny because Calli isn’t a name I’ve often come across in books, but I did for the first time when I read Calli Be Gold and again recently a Callie in Seeing Cinderella. Both great books 😉

    Hmm…there are tons I love…but some that strike off top of my head:
    – Timmy Failure
    – Franny K. Stein
    – Ratchet (This Journal Belongs to Ratchet)
    – River and Freak (What We Found in the Sofa and How It Changed the World)
    – Cat and Jasper (Grim Hill Secret series)

    I could go on and on. Fun.

  5. TP, love Capricorn, too! And Rain!

    Betsy, I don’t even remember that was Pippi’s full name. Thanks! It is completely hilarious. Who could resist a story with a girl named that!

  6. I love the fact that Pippi Longstocking’s full name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking–because how hilarious is that? Every time I think of the word “windowshade,” I think of Pippi’s whole crazy name. I also think it’s funny that the author’s daughter just made up the name/character “Pippi Longstocking” on the spot when asking her mother to tell her a story. 🙂

  7. I love the name of the main character in Gordon Korman’s Schooled–Capricorn Anderson. When paired with Cap’s grandmother’s name (“Rain”), you automatically get a feel for the hippy-like underpinnings that shape who they are.

  8. JK used such creative names with clever hidden meanings!

  9. I’ve always loved the name Albus Dumbledore, and Dumbledore is a Early Modern English word for bumblebee. (Yeah Wiki)