Sunday, April 1, 2012

Too Many Rubys

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.
Max and Ruby
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.
Cherry Ames
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?


Amanda Lillywhite said...

I understand the appeal of the name Ruby but love the name Cherry-Ann. It is unusual but unlike some unusual names does not seem overdone. In my head it sounds lovely.
I ran into problems with the name of a boy in a story I was writing but then swapped his name with the name of his dog and it worked much better!

A. Colleen Jones said...

Thanks Amanda! That's an awesome way to deal with a name issue!! Colleen :)

Paula said...

Name always hard Colleen - because you want them to suit your character and that's never as easy as it sounds. Cherry Ann a good one - where are you with the book now?

A. Colleen Jones said...

I swear Paula, I am the slowest writer in the solar system! I have made good progress developing Cherry-Ann and Kasper, but I still don't feel I have a good story arc yet. Need to try a bit of outlining and see if that helps.

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