I’m not talking about gems. I’m talking about characters in children’s books, and the sometimes frustrating challenge of coming up with names.
I’m writing a children’s book. Originally, I started with a quick drawing and a short description for a picture book. This was based on an experience I’d had in Toronto many years ago. Then, when I started developing my character profiles and drafting my first pages, I realized I was writing something for slightly older kids, maybe 7 to 9 years old, and had two main characters rather than just one.
I decided to call them Michael and Ruby or, rather, Mike and Ruby, as she always shortened his name, which drove him a bit crazy. The working title, Mike and Ruby, had a nice ring to it. I even had an idea for a follow-up book called Ruby Goes to School, where she gets integrated into Mike’s school.
Then a friend pointed out that there already was a book series about two rabbits, Max and Ruby, by Rosemary Wells. Blast! I was going to have to change the name of one of my characters.
Okay, I was still set on the name Ruby, so I thought I would change the name of my boy, Michael. Hmm. What to do. I wanted something a little bit different and interesting. I decided to make him Polish, since there are so many Polish people living in Ireland (though I’m not 100% sure yet that my story is set in Ireland). I queried my Polish friends for a list of some common Polish boys’ names. Out of that list, I chose Kacper, but after someone else commented that they didn’t know how to pronounce it, I changed the spelling to Kasper. Kasper and Ruby. Sorted!
Not quite. I was reading the Recommended Reading Guide from Children’s Books Ireland and counted at least three newly published books with Ruby as the name of a main character! Urgh! I still had a problem with my girl’s name. If I had any doubts, today, a quick search turned up about 16 children’s books with Ruby in the title!
I chose Ruby because I associate the name with a spirited, sassy girl who is outgoing and confident. My Ruby is obsessed with the colour red, to match her name, and even had her wheelchair painted a sparkly, cherry red, like a roadster.
So I tried to come up with other names associated with red, like Garnet, Rose, Scarlett, Cerise, Coral, and Cherry. Hmm, Cherry was a possibility, like Cherry Ames.
But I wanted to make it a bit more unusual, like some of the names I’d read in other books; I decided to give her a double-barrelled name: Cherry-Ann. It makes me wonder who she is and where she’s from to have a name like that. It’s a bit different but somehow catchy (at least in my own head), and, of 106,000 hits in a search, none seem to be for children's books. Score!
I keep thinking I should change her name back to Ruby, but today’s search confirms that there are enough Rubys (in children’s books). And, frankly, Cherry-Ann has as much spirit and sass as the ruby-est of Rubys.
How do you come up with your characters' names and do you ever run into problems?