After all the
conferencing and considering the names submitted for two characters in Rescue
on Nim’s Island, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of character names, and
how we choose them. Because I have to say that I was absolutely blown away by
the thought that went in to the entries. I don’t have time to count them, but
they filled many pages when I printed them out, and came from Australia,
Canada, the UK and USA, both from schools and individuals. I had a strong sense that most of the
entries came from writers, whether child or adult, published or not, they were
people who understand the significance and the joy of playing with words. There
were many names that really needed a story written for them, even if they
didn’t make it into this one.
Some were simply too
similar to other new characters in this story. ‘Leona’ for the biologist who
loves sea lions would have been perfect, and so would the Lars for the
geologist – except that the story already has a Leonora and Lance. In fact
Lance was originally Lars, though I can’t divulge now why I decided to change
There were names
crediting famous scientists, and names that children felt ought to be used by
scientists: ‘Pamela is a perfect name usually used by marine biologists,’ or
‘Dr Francis sounds like a smart person’s name to me.’ Whether or not we can all
agree on what sounds like a scientist’s name, those are legitimate point. In
real life names don’t tell us anything about someone’s intelligence or morals –
but fiction is full of subtle hints (or wilful misleading…).
I’m sure there’s
probably a relationship between the sharp consonants like K, the number of
syllables,or the length of the vowel sounds, as to whether we see the person as
sharp or gentle, round or thin. As one young poet said, ‘Raymond:
the ra sound reminds me of rocks, a hard, tough name. But it ends gently, soft
on the inside.’
There were suggestions
based on honouring people they loved, eg ‘Paula because she’s my bus driver.’
That’s legitimate too. If the name fits, why not use it? Similarly, a girl
suggested the surname of Swartz as a tribute to Schwartz Bay, where my 8 year old self saw the tiny
island that she then wrote a story about… (No, this girl doesn’t know me
personally, she just paid good attention to the FAQ on my website and asked a
few questions). I could have easily chosen that name, but conferencing with my
editors, we decided it should be something that was meaningful to more people.
One thing I sometimes do
when deciding if a name fits is to check the list of most popular baby names
for the year they were born, especially if they’re not a character who is meant
to stand out in some way.
And, like many of the
entrants, I love playing with meanings. There were many variations on Rock as
both first and surname, and various Latin references to sea lions.
Possibly the hardest
thing to define is whether the names fit with the tone of the story. That may have
been the subconscious factor that influenced our final choices.
So… the names are:
Selina Ashburn and Peter Hunterstone. This actually means there are 4 winners,
as we ended up mixing and matching.
Selina means moon
goddess, but sounds sea-ish. That came from children’s writer Dimity Powell.
Ashburn is the last
name of the sea lion trainer who trained the three Selkies in the two films.
Thanks to Katie Brock-Medland, one of the animal wranglers who worked with her
while Spud, Friday and BJ were filming. Katie’s also shared this picture of
Donna with me.
Peter means rock, and
Hunterstone – well, isn’t that clever! The girl who thought it up is in Year
(Grade) 3 in Rosebud, Australia, and the Peter, with its meaning, came from a
Grade 4 boy in Michigan! I love that the full name has been made up by kids on
the opposite sides of the world.
Labels: choosing names for fiction, creative writing, names that fit characters, naming characters in fiction, Rescue on Nim's Island, suitable names