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!
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 . . .
“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’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 . . .
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.