Midnighter Names

A few days ago, Justine wrote a post about character names. She and I agree pretty much on this issue: We don’t stress out insanely about finding the one and only true name that magically brings a character to life. When I hear other writers talk about that stuff, I wonder if perhaps it’s a way of procrastinating to avoid the real work of getting inside character’s head. (That is, knowing their favorite breakfast condiment, shoe size, and relationship to Pluto.)

But people are fascinated with names, or at least the people who write me fan mail are, so without further ado . . .

Here’s the first episode of “Why I Chose the Names I Did,” which is all about my first YA series, Midnighters!

Jessica Day
Her working name was Gillian Flood, which I still think rocks. “Gillian” is the name of a pal of mine (who managed to get a law degree in the time it took me to write the whole trilogy: congrats!). Alas, my heroine’s name was destined to change.

The “Flood” went early on, in the proposal stage. Basically, an editor at the packaging house happened to have the last name “Flood,” and they found the confluence a bit weird. So someone chose “Day,” for obvious reasons—indeed, too obvious, some might say (including me). I didn’t raise much of a fuss at the time, because this was not where I wanted to fight my battles. So “Gillian Day” it was.

After the book was done, one of the higher-ups at HarperCollins decided she didn’t like “Gillian.” My frequent shortening to “Gill” sounded fishy to her. “Jillian” was proposed, but that spelling felt like a spike in my brain. The issue languished, and the book’s protagonist remained unnamed until late in the editorial process, when I not-so-brilliantly suggested Jessica/Jess as a replacement. (See directly below for why this was dumb.)

And thus Jessica Day was born.

Dess (no last name) was always named “Dess.” As she puts it in The Secret Hour, it’s supposedly short for Desdemona, but secretly short for “decimal.”

I think Dess’s name is perfect, quick-witted and math-geeky, just like her.

Alas, it friggin’ rhymes with Jess. I didn’t even notice this until an editor had run the Search-and-Replace right before the page proofs were produced for The Secret Hour. Egads! All those Desses and Jesses next to each other, causing eyeball fatigue! Some readers have written to say it makes their brain hurt, others don’t notice at all.

In Touching Darkness, I pay a swift homage to this issue:

Beth turned from her cooking. “You have a friend called Dess, Jess?”
“Yeah, it’s a mess.”

At least one highly visual reader said it got even worse for him when this next double-S feminine name was thrown into the mix . . .

Melissa is the first of a Westerfeldian breed: interestingly crazy women whose names begin with M. Later in Midnighters we meet Madeleine, and readers of The Last Days will see the tradition continued with Minerva (more on her in a later episode of this show). Some might suggest that David’s mom in Uglies, Maddy, also fits this profile. That’s probably a bit unfair, though Tally might think otherwise.

But within the midnighters’ world, the m has tons of connections, which brings us to . . .

The initial M makes Madeleine a typographical sister to Melissa. Plus they’re both mindcasters, misanthropes, and malcontents.

But more importantly, a madeleine is a pastry with a history. Savor this, if you will . . .

photo credit: The Food Section

You see, a madeleine features heavily in Rememberance of Things Past, Marcel Proust’s book in which a man eating a madeleine has a memory flashback, vast chunks of the past skittering out of his mind for the next 800 pages, all because of the familiar taste. That’s right, it’s exactly the sort of effect that touching a mindcaster can have (and, of course, mindcasting uses tastes as its central metaphors for people’s thoughts and memories).

Cool, huh? Touching Darkness, and indeed the whole Midnighters series, is all about the rememberance of things past . . .

Pretentious? Moi?

Rex Greene
“Rex” means king, which makes the name pretty ironic at first. He’s supposed to be the leader of the midnighters, but he’s somewhat shaky, as kings go.

Of course, by Blue Noon Rex is more of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Hah!

I have no idea where “Greene” came from.

Jonathan Martinez
Jonathan’s name also just came out of nowhere. Of all the characters, he’s the only one whose last name is a data point about him. After all, he’s Hispanic and has some plot-related knowledge of Spanish. (Also, it would be lame to set a book in Oklahoma without a Hispanic character, especially given the importance of history and colonization in the series.)

“Martinez” is pretty common, just as Greene and Day are. In fact, all the midnighter characters have vaguely generic last names, as if they’re just being slotted into historical roles handed down over the generations. But maybe that’s overthinking it . . .

Other Characters
Don Day: as in “dawn day”? An appalling combination that also didn’t occur to me until too late. Argh.

Beth: for some reason, the ultimate little sister name.

Jessica’s Mom: She has no first nameI What’s up with that? Well, Jessica is really much closer to her mom than her dad, so while she often thinks of him as “Don,” her mom is only ever “Mom.” A subtle but effective way to show family dynamics.

Constanza Greyfoot: I just love “Constanza” as a slightly overblown name for a comic character. And of course (spoiler alert!) her last name is a big deal in Books 2 and 3.

Cassie Flinders: Matthew Flinders was an early European explorer of Australia, where I started to write the series. Cassie herself is an explorer of the Blue Time. And Cassie? Well, “Cassie-Anne” was going to be my name if I’d been a girl. (Tell no one.)

Angie: is a friend of mine who was house-sitting for us while I wrote The Secret Hour. You see, I was telling her how to pay bills and fix the toilet via email, just as the Darklings told Angie what to do via . . . tile-mail. Or something.

That’s all I can think of. Are there any of your fave Midnighters characters I’ve missed?

Actually, that was fun. I’ll write soon about character names in my other books, ending up with The Last Days, of course. Which is (did I mention?) out now!

If you haven’t read the series and your interest is piqued, feel free to go buy Midnighters.

79 thoughts on “Midnighter Names

  1. Hi,

    I am a teens librarian and read many publication journals. Did you know that in 8/28/06 Publishers Weekly they call Last Days inspirational faith fiction? Do you consider it to be faith fiction? I love the story of Peeps and found it fun and suspenseful, but I did not really think about the connotation of faith. I haven’t read Last Days yet (it is on back order) so maybe there is a change in the new one. I was just wondering what you thought about the faith fiction label!

  2. anyone know how to send scott an e-mail,
    other han the “contact me” thing,
    cause thats not working for me
    thanks! ^-^

  3. Scooott! speaking of names, you so broke the Believeable Name Law in The Last Days! You canot mix that many uncommon names in a present day novel, uggh., you goose. I loved it anyway, though. XD

  4. what an interesting post..
    i especially like the pic of madeleines..
    that sure made me drool…
    wish i could buy Last Days..all the talk about it is enough to make someone crazy! XD no offense. i have to wait for it to come out in my local library though…argh

  5. When I write I pick names that mean something that describes the character. Except Kakrian, because I made that up. And everyone makes fun of it. The second best name on earth is Maurzio. Does anyone agree?! Probably not…

  6. hi i’m that crazy friand of capt.cockatiels that really likes midnighters anwyway i read that scott westerfeld was doing a book sighning in seattle and i was wondering when it was. does any one know?

  7. no i always thought it was prounoced Dess (with a S). i was just wondering does any one else call rex, rexy becouse i thought somone refered to him like that in the book (besides Mellissa, i think it may have bean Dess).

  8. Holy cow. T.C. you have to write on the most recent posts or no one will answer your callings (which have been answered, by the way. Sheesh)!! Way to steal our names, huh? How rude. That ruined my “Scott is Signing in Seattle” dance. Now I’m sad nad extatic all at once.

  9. Gillian Flood? Really?

    So, when you wrote Touching Darkness and Blue Noon did you think of her as Jess or Gill? Did you still have to write Gill and run search and replace all the time or did you get used to it.

    One more thing, at that party at Russles Bottom in The Secret Hour, someone acidentally calls Jess “Jill.” For the short time Jessica was Jillian did he accidentaly call her “Gill”?

    That would be funny:)

  10. Just finished Midnighters.
    YAAY and AWW at the same time.
    It went so quickly. And I loved it.
    Plus, I’m not going to be able to get the other two for quite some time (this is one of the few points in time that REALLY REALLY hate not getting an allowence of any sort. boo hoo). Maybe I can sell my older brother into slavery…hmm…
    I hope there’s a fourth. Only two more day-long reads to go in the series? That just dosn’t work…

  11. Your books are so good.

    When I first started reading midnighters I got confused with Dess and Melissa. lol

    And yeah I picked up on the Jess Dess and Melissa part pretty quickly. But I got over it.

    Is the Midnighters a series or trilogy? i hope theres more than three books.
    I’ve only read the first so far :S

  12. ok i know that this totally stupid and off topic but there is a kid in my class name jonathan and he is my exact definition of rex greene. he really is. hes got the whole goth look and the hair cut and all. its amazing. and my friend tracy reminds me of melissa only less goth and short hair

  13. I didn’t notice the whole Dess/Jess thing until I was reading a section aloud and became extremely tongue-tied. However, I don’t think that “Beth” is a little sister name. I always think of annoying old ladies when I think of “Beth”, but maybe those annoying old ladies started out as annoying little sisters…

    As for random information, the ending of Blue Noon was confusing. I am still a little muddled about the finer points.

  14. I have a question.. So when you place quotes [reffering to Midnighters right now] like the one “That which sticks up must be brought down”. (pg. 313 in book 3) Do you make them up or often get them from someone/somewhere else? There are other nifty quotes but that was just an example.

  15. How did you think of all the names in the Uglies series, like Tally and Zane? And why did you make those nicknames, adding wa at the end? I thought it was interesting, but just wondering.

  16. Gillian Flood? Wow, that’s a cool name, except I’d have to think every time I read it. The hard-G thing. The Flood is great though. Yeah, Day is kind of obvious, plus there is a girl at my school called Jessica Day. It’s kind of surreal-ish.

  17. “Cassie-Anne” was going to be your name? Just because you don’t want us to tell, I’m going to tell. In fact, I think I’ll write it in huge letters in our public library. That’s what you get for killing my Zane-La..

    Heh, Chulupnik-Wa…..

  18. you should do a post about the last days names next. minerva is the roman equivilant of athena in greek mythology i think but zahler? and moz? (yes i know its for mosquito because of his size but… still…Moz?) among many others. so you should do the last days names next.

  19. I don’t agree with Beth being the ultimate little sis name. My closest friend is a “Beth” and an older sis to an awfully smelly Rachel, who happens to hate me for pointing that out in her French class. And for loving her sister more, as always happens.

  20. did anyone here accidentaly say dex instead of rex a couple of times??? or was it just me… i found allllll the midnighters names rather confusing… which was one of my favorite parts of the book

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