by Melissa Stoller
I’m happy to be a new member of The Blogfish! Over the past few years, I’ve been a student in several Children’s Book Academy classes including: “The Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books," “The Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books,” and “The Chapter Book Alchemist.” I’ve also assisted Mira with several of the classes. Now, I’m thrilled to work with CBA as a blogger.
For this inaugural blog, it’s all about NAMES! I’ll focus on how to brainstorm meaningful character names and what happens if a name change is necessary.
Choosing a Name
As the Jewish poet Zelda wrote, “Each of us has a name. Given by God and given by our parents . . . Each of us has a name, given by the stars and given by our neighbors . . . .” And as Shakespeare famously noted, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Names are important. Ask any new parents struggling to find just the right moniker. It’s the same for the names in stories. Choosing a name allows an author to connect with a character and ultimately with readers.
Here are a few ideas to think about when choosing the perfect name.
1) Create names relating to the storyline:
In my manuscripts, I seek names that match the characters and storyline. I chose Celeste and Sandy, relating to a celestial and sea storyline, and Roxie who sounds like a sassy squirrel. Emma and Simon are contemporary names that also could have roots in the 1920s when my chapter book is based.
2) Use names from your own family history:
In my chapter book, I use the names of my grandparents Jack and Jessie, and my dog, Molly! You can designate a name to honor or remember a relative or friend. First and last names from your family tree might make excellent choices.
3) Find names from the everyday world:
Nature: flowers or plants like Rose and Holly; natural formations like Amber or Brooke;
Colors: such as Periwinkle or Lilac;
Places: an avenue like Lexington or Madison; a city, state, or town like Charlotte or Aurora;
Birds: Raven or Piper; and
Animals: in my newest PB, I simply use Gorilla and Gopher to capture the wordplay of “go,” the first syllable of each name.
4) Keep a list of names from popular culture:
Jot down names that resonate from books, movies, TV shows, theatre, magazines, newspapers, blogs, online lists of baby names, and ancestry records. The list will be a handy resource when brainstorming name ideas. For example, when reading a book about Greek mythology or even a Shakespeare play, a name might pop up that relates symbolically to your character.
5) Hold naming contests:
Ask readers to suggest names or offer a naming contest. Author Nelson DeMille has donated money to charities through character naming opportunities.
Changing a Name
What are the chances that your picture book title character would have the same name as the title character in a book already scheduled to be published in the same publishing house, Clear Fork Publishing/Spork? Especially if it was an unusual name? Well, I didn’t think the chances were very high, but it happened to me.
I named my debut picture book SIENNA’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH. The story revolves around a girl who loves to paint, and I chose the name Sienna because “Burnt Sienna” is one of my favorite oil paint colors. Also, the name fit lyrically, as I included several alliterative phrases in the story, such as “Sienna sighed,” “Sienna shouted,” “Sienna smiled.” And, I liked the three-syllable sound of the word in the sentences I constructed.
Then I found out that my Spork Sister, Alayne Kay Christian, had written a book named SIENNA THE COWGIRL FAIRY, that was being published by Clear Fork Publishing. As I pitched the story to my publisher Callie Metler-Smith, I knew I would have to change Sienna’s name.
The name change process began. First, I searched through lists of oil paint colors. I honed in on rose, violet, olive, and scarlet. I researched picture books that might have popularized those names already. I narrowed the list to Violet, Olive, and Scarlet. And I spoke to my publisher about my list. Coincidentally, her young cousin is named Olive, and so we chose the name Olive.
When I wrote blogs and Facebook posts about the book, I used the name OLIVE’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH. And then marvelous Mira signed on to be the art director for the book (I know . . . how lucky!). Mira, aka the picture book whisperer, critiqued the story, and she suggested that I change the name. My first reaction was . . . wow, I have been through two names with this character and I was attached to both. How could I change a third time? But Mira had solid reasons for her request. After I told her the whole story about the name, she noted that I lost the alliteration of an “S” name, and I also lost the three-syllable word. I didn’t love other color names that had three syllables, but I did love Scarlet.
I tested it out, and it worked. It’s a strong, bold color for a strong and bold main character. SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is scheduled to be released in Spring 2018.
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Until next time . . . happy writing, creating, and name hunting!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the debut chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (Clear Fork Publishing, July 2017); the debut picture book SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork, 2018); THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE (Clear Fork, 2018); and READY, SET, GORILLA! (Clear Fork, 2018). She is also the co-author of THE PARENT-CHILD BOOK CLUB: CONNECTING WITH YOUR KIDS THROUGH READING (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI-MetroNY. In previous chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a freelance writer, lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.
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