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. wow i really love how you tell about all the characters. whenever i have to right stories for schooli never can think of names. i really can’t wait for uglies!

  2. oh yeah i also think it’s really cool that a characters name is madeleine because that’s my name. and i my friends sometimes joke that i’m named after a cookie!

  3. Hey, you missed Anathea! I always sort of wondered where her name came from…
    And if you think about it, it’s lucky Melissa isn’t a name-shortening type of girl, or you’d have Dess, Jess and Mess (seriously, I know some people who wouldn’t think twice about calling themselves “Mess”).

  4. Wow, this was a great read, Scott! I can never come up with meaningful names for my stories, so this might help me out in the future. The whole Jess/Dess thing confused me for about half of the first book (had to keep checking who was who). Then I got used to it. It’s a little tricky, but I think it’s fine, as when you know the characters you won’t be mixing them up (same as people).

    You should definetely do more in depth stuff like this!

  5. thanks scott! that is really cool. with the whole jess dess thing, i didnt really pay attention, until i was reading that particular section with beth out loud to a friend, which kind of made me look bad. ^.^ but yeah that is really interesting. hmm, now i have to know about uglies names.

  6. I had noticed the Jess/Dess thing, but never got them mixed up. There is a kid who goes to my school who looks uncanilly like Rex’s discription. My friends and I have been watching for any Midnighter-induced strangeness in him.

  7. I have a friend who looks like Rex. Uncanny similarities, but nothing midnighter. By the way, Scott, on the subject of Rex, his name didn’t have anything to do with that book you’re always talking about, Parasite Rex, would it?

  8. Actually, some people believe that that particular scene in Remembrance of Things Past was actually written about dry toast. Why dry toast? Because toast is dry and crumb-producing, and madelines, if properly made, are not. See, for example, this article.

    Hmm. I need to find madeline pans.

  9. My friend who is obbsevive about the Rex-yness of the kid at school laughs whenever she sees me carrying Parasite Rex around.

  10. i love thinking of names. i personally like the name silence loud, its from beautiful city of the dead, by leander watts, its really good…

    i got TLD!!! it just came into my bookstore!!! YAYO!!!

  11. That’s really interesting about the names.

    Just out of curiosity…Where did Tally and Shay come from and why were there nicknames Tally-Wa and Shay-La? hehe- some of my non- preppy friends were freaking out when they read those nicknames:)

  12. Okay, sorry to change the subject but could someone clarify how long Rex’s hair is? Me and my friends (including capt. cockatiel) are in a big debate about it. She thinks it is longer then shoulder length (me:???) but I think it is shorter. We looked back through the books and all we could find was that Rex was droaning on and on about how he wanted (and finally did) to cut his hair, how it got singed, and that it was gothy. So…what is it?

    Thanks for clearing this up, guys!

  13. How long Rex’s hair is… tough one. I always figured it was sort of a messy cut just below chin length. But that’s just my opinion, and it never does say, so you’re guess is as good as mine.

  14. I said it was about chin length! Never did I say that it was longer than his shoulders!! I have provided proof of long-haired-ness, but Topaz is as stubborn as a mule (hmmm, Topaz Mule, that has a nice ring to it). What is a “gothy hairdo” anyways? I did not know that goths had a hairdo named for/after them…

  15. Oh, yes. One more thing. This morning another friend of mine asked Topaz what she thought a gothy-hairdo was. Topaz said something along the lines of shoulder/chin length. When told that this person with a gothy-hairdo was Rex, she denied her hairdo spout and said that he had short hair. Hmmm ,she is SUCH a liar.

  16. Gothic hair-dos usually include bangs that hang in your eyes or longer, and the messier the better. And usually dyed black. I should know, I was midnighter-style goth for about two years… until I got sick of it and cut my hair short and bleached it blonde lol. Talk about a change of look…

  17. and as we’re talkin’ bout names here… ::cough:: ::cough:: 😉

    can anyone think of a wicked cool first name to go with the last name Cole? has to be a guy’s name. or if it’s female whatever. as long as it sounds masculine. lol. email, please. thanks. or up here. whatever.

  18. Wicked cool first names… My advice would be to find a Final Fantasy website that has character bios and look through them until you either find something you like that isn’t too obvious or something that gives you an idea of a good name lol. Or any other video game for that matter. They all have cool-sounding names that could be used anywhere. And you can find whole websites dedicated to helping people pick names for their babies, those are always fun.

  19. Ayame! But that’s Jap… Ayame Cole. No.
    Anyway Scott, when you were bolding the ‘m’s in that paragraph? THAT hurt my eyes. really! But i love the explanations.. lol!

  20. Yeah, the explinations are great. Sorry, Lenny, for the change in subject–I just HAD to know.

    So names…I never did notice the Jess/Dess thing. It DOES stick out know that you mentioned it, though (hee-hee!). I like the name Melissa a lot. I really like the name Jessica too.

    Thanks again to all the people who helped clear up the Rex-hair thingy!

    Until next time–Topaz

  21. wow. love this section…can you do Uglies names next? because I accidentally called my principal Tally the other day…it was bad…

  22. I never got confused by the Jess/Dess thing, but I always thought of Jess as Jessica, so that probably is why. Plus, the first letter of someone’s name always stands out more. And by the way, Scott, I definitely think the name Jessica Day could not have been more perfect for her. It’s a really good match to her personality.

  23. So Justine and I were hanging out with Holly Black at the Brooklyn Writers’ Festival today, and I asked her what constitutes a “goth haircut.” Cause, you know, who else?

    She said it’s got to be long enough to fall into your eyes, but also not hanging below the chin in front, and fairly short in the back. If you don’t know what is meant by this, she suggests that you goggle “The Cure.”

    And that, my friends, is the word.

    I have no idea how I came up with “Ernesto” or “Anathea,” except that Anathea is sort of an old-lady name, and she’d be pretty old by now.

  24. Oh, one more thing. Scott, you let other authors pick the hair styles of your characters? Isn’t that a little strange? Of course, I’m the one who was in a fight about the hairstyles…

  25. Personally, my favorite name *on earth* is Kakrian (which is the best character in a book I wrote with Topaz). Yes, Kakrian is best.

  26. Wow!!! awesome information O_O

    on the subject of the midnighters, i saw the movie the Covenant yesterday…they refered to this spirit they kept seeing (it was evil and looked like zombie :O) a “darkling”. sounds familliar, no?

  27. Hi
    Sorry this is a bit off topic but i couldn’t find a relevent post that was still open to comments. I was wondering when The Last days is out in australia? and i also would really like it if someone could reccomend some books to read? ( I loved uglies, pretties specials)



  28. Ellie- TLD comes out in Oz in April 2007.

    And yes, Captain, I couldn’t do a pandemic-related band-name chapter-titled book without “The Cure,” could I?

  29. Ellie, I’d recommend books by Garth Nix – he writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. To name some, Shade’s Children and Sabriel are really good.

  30. Oh! I love Garth Nix. He is pretty cool (I like Holly Black too. I also like her opinion on Gothic hair!) I also vote for a blog on the Uglies names. My favorite name is Jessica (even before I read Midnighters mostly because it was SUPPOSED to be my name). I think my favorite Uglies name is Shay…Because it is fun to say. Shay. SH-ay. Shhhhaaaayyy…

    Hee-hee. That’s all–and thanks Scott for clearing up the Great Gothic Hairdo Problem (GGHP!)

    Until next time!

    (Oooohhh! Look! I shortened my name. Topaz Jaguar made me sound like a car or something. Topaz is sooooo much better.

  31. Topaz, you are a car. Just joking. The GGHP was like a mini WW3 (actually, not really…). Garth Nox is awsome fawesome! YAY!

  32. Doesn’t it say, up there in blog-land, that all of the books Scott has written for YA will be done like this, all the names and stuff listed? I think it does. That means Uglies will come soon.

    Ellie, I also recommend books by Chris Wooding and Clive Barker, too. (Clive Barker’s ABARAT series to be exact, and by Chris Wooding I highly recommend Poison, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray and Storm Thief.)

  33. i’m glad jess wasn’t gillian i would have pronounced it with a hard G everytime in my head.
    I wonder, when did the whole JESS SHADY come in? I love that.
    Also I like that Johnathon was not johnny or john, though i like johnny he was so a johnathon.

  34. So, I haven’t read the books, but I read the explanations for names. I’m reversed I suppose. But the point is, majority rules, and you should do “Uglies” next. kgreat.

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