Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with some third-graders in my hometown. They asked amazing, wonderful questions. One that threw me for a loop, however, was, “Why Henry?”
A boy, who happened to be named Henry, wanted to know why one of the not-so-nice guys in PACK OF DORKS was named Henry.
As I paused to think about it, I realized that what I was currently writing also had a Henry. And one of the first books I ever wrote (and which was, frankly, terrible awfulness that I shouldn’t have subjected to anyone) had a Henry in it, too. I felt a little lame admitting it, but I just told him, “I really like the name Henry.” And it’s true. I do. It’s a cool name.
I’m currently reading TUCK EVERLASTING, one of my all-time favorite books, to my son. We’re digging into the storyline, wondering what we would do if we could live forever, why Tuck believes this is a curse and Jesse a blessing, and what lengths we would take to protect the spring.
*Break to sigh over Natalie Babbit’s awesomeness.*
TUCK EVERLASTING was my fifth-grade teacher’s read-aloud book. Mrs. Deaner had the most amazing reading. I never failed to fall deeply into whatever she read. Even better were the depths we’d dive into when discussing the books she read to us.
For TUCK EVERLASTING, many of those discussions involved Babbit’s use of names. Did she just randomly pick names that she happened to like, or, in this novel of sparse but important words, were the names themselves symbols?
The more I thought about the names, the more my little mind was blown by Babbit’s wordsmithing. (I know, I made that word up. I do that sometimes.)
The Stranger was all the more frightening because he was not named. He was the unknown, the scary what-if that the Tucks—and then the reader—fretted over.
And maybe Mae was too permissive (in a “Mother, may I?” manner). But at the same time, she was as constant as the month of May’s flowers, and just as full of promise and hope, despite the coming decay around her.
Tuck, her husband, buries his fears and pushes down his dreams so as to better handle this “curse” upon his children and spouse.
And Winnie Foster? She and her family have unknowingly cared for, or fostered, the secret of the wood for generations.
*Another moment to bask in Babbit’s genius.*
So I’ve been hard at work (aka eating sugar, downing coffee and relentless checking Facebook) plotting and drafting a new book. This one focuses on a character introduced in A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE (check it out! It has its own Amazon page already! Squee!). I love the ideas swimming through my head for this book, and can’t wait to launch into the writing.
But first I have to figure out the basic details. First up, naming these characters!
That’s where you come in, patient and loving readers. Some names I know I’m going to pack with power and symbolism. I’m going to need more sugar and coffee and time to come up with those. Maybe even some Cheez-its.
But there are lots of other characters in mind with names like “floppy hair boy in the back of the class” and “gross ear-wax-eating girl* in second row.” Then there’s “cute girl on the bus,” “homely girl who loves to quilt” and “tough boy with dollbaby eyelashes.” These guys need actual names.
So hit me with them. Here’s your chance to choose a name for a future book. Got a favorite name? Want to see it in a book? Put it in the comments below!