on naming things (but especially book characters)

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I am not writing a book. I sort of was for about half of National Novel Writing Month, but no more. This post is about names and likeability and originality. What that means in real world terms is that’s they’re actually just my random thoughts, but I want to let them out into the world, to see if any of you think the same things (sometimes).


I have an uncommon-ish sort of name: Cecelia. It doesn’t show up much in art or literature. Fanny Burney, a contemporary of Jane Austen, wrote a novel called Cecilia, which I own but have never read. Forgive me – it’s 1,200+ pages of romance, counter-romance and mystery. I tried that with Anna Karenina and failed miserably. But there’s also a Simon & Garfunkel song called Cecilia, and I’d estimate that half of the people I meet for the first time spontaneously serenade me with it – regardless of the strength or quality of their singing voices.


And on top of that, my sister is called Virginia, or Ginny for short. Very slightly more common than Cecelia, but still an old-fashioned name, and rare in literature. It’s really no surprise then that when we find a novel, not to mention a GOOD novel, with one of our names in it, that we get a little excited. I can think of three shining examples of this (though I’m sure there are more and I’m just forgetting them).


The first is Kristen D. Randle’s The Only Alien on the Planet. The main character is Virginia, but she goes by Ginny, just as my sister does. I simply loved that book, and would have done so regardless of what the character’s name was. But since her name was Ginny, I could read it, discover its merit, and then pass it on to my sister, all the while knowing that she wouldn’t be able to resist a good book AND a character with her name (this was at a point where she refused to read anything I’d read).


And the second case is Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword. The main character’s name in this novel is Harry – which is my dad’s name – and she’s a bit of a tomboy. But the book starts slowly, and I may have never gotten into the intense and adventurous bit if I hadn’t been caught by the mention of a ship called the Cecilia in the first couple pages. It’s the little things that keep you reading sometimes, and I’m very glad that I did read that book – it’s become a comfortable standard and McKinley one of my favorite authors of all time.


And the third example – another book that I haven’t read but have always meant to (as it was co-written by two seriously talented/favorite authors) is Sorcery and Cecelia, by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede. I’ve always wanted to cross-examine these authors, and ask how they came up with Cecelia – I mean, the name with my less-common spelling and everything! And also why I was unlucky enough at age 9 to have my mother find that book in my library stack and disapprove of it on sight. May have had something to do with ‘Sorcery’ in the title…but still. No excuse for why I haven’t read it since!


So – I have a few questions. Have you ever seen your name in a book? Did it make an impression? Were you more willing to like the book? If you haven’t found your name in a book yet, which genre will it most likely be found in?


Tell me your name and character stories!

19 comments:

Tasmin said...

This:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1811726.Climbing_a_Monkey_Puzzle_Tree

Is the only book I've ever found with my name in it, and they smelled it wrong a few times. I see Tamsin and Jasmin a lot, but those aren't my name, so it's not as cool.

Lisa said...

I have a boring, common name so I have seen it in books. But it's so common that it's not in the least special to find it in a book. I worked very hard to pick names for my kids that weren't so common but also not so odd that they would never see them. Then, of course, thousands of other people also discovered two of the three names and they're very common!

Peaceful Reader said...

I laughed at the part where random people sing to you in Simon and Garfunkel-people do the same for me with the Beatles song, "Michelle." I picked both my children's names from books; one from a legend and one from a Jack Kerouac novel-but their names must remain secret. I love unusual names and love the spelling of your name.

Kals said...

This is such a lovely, interesting post!

Nope...I've never seen my name used in any book, though my sister is named after one of the most legendary heroines in a great Indian epic written by the poet Kalidasa.

coffeestainedpages said...

This is such a great concept for a post! I've never read my name, Dominique, in a book (except for those custom kids books where they print your name into the story, but that doesn't count!). Maybe if I started reading more books by French authors it would come up, since it's supposed to be quite common there.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

O I LOVE your names. Your parents did a fabulous job. Strong beautiful feminine old fashioned names. I love it!

Andrea said...

Ooh, I love Sorcery and Cecelia. It was really great.

And, I don't see many Andreas in books. In fact, I can't think of any that I've read. Though it was exciting when the original 90210 was on with Andrea Zuckerman. But her name was pronounced differently than mine.

Jenny said...

Oh, read Sorcery and Cecelia. It's very good. I picked it up in the first place because it had the name "Cecelia" in the title, and that name's always been one of my favorites.

I always think my name should show up more frequently in literature. Jenny! It's very common! But characters called Jenny tend to be peripheral, like servant girls, or else characters I just really don't like.

Please accept my sympathies on the Simon & Garfunkel song thing. Everyone sings eight-six-seven-five-three-oh-ni-i-i-ine to me, OR they do the equally hilarious thing of putting on a massive fake Southern accent and saying "Run, Jenny, run!"

Tia said...

I have a common-ish name (Christina), but I can't think of a single time I've seen it in books. I rarely meet Christinas either, so I've always though there was just some anti-other-Christina force field around me.

owl and peacock : melina said...

I daresay, I have never, ever found my name in a book.
However, there was a Melina in a Schwarzenegger movie. And in the Mortal Combat video games :)

Memory said...

I've never found my name as a name, just as an abstract concept. I'm not terribly surprised, though; we Memories are few and far between!

Kim said...

So do you go by a shortened name, Celia, or CeeCee (as in Honeycutt)?
I have a common name, but can't think quickly of a book using it. I do love it though when I hear it used in a movie! I imagine my name would probably be in a chic lit.

celi.a said...

Kim:

I introduce myself as Cecelia, always. But as people get to know me, it always seems to morph into something else. I've been called: Cissy, Ceece, Celia, Cici, Cecil, Ceal, ceci-LEA, and a couple of other variations. I actually answer to Sylvia and Cynthia on occasion as well. Life is interesting!

Rhiannon Hart said...

I have never found my name in a book! Apparently Kate Forsyth has a Rhiannon in one of her books. I get serenaded by people who meet me too: Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon. I love that song, but the chorus is so distracting! It's just my name, repeated in a long, drawn out way.

Bekah said...

My name, Rebekah is read a decent amount, but rarely spelled like mine.
I had a friend who insisted on calling me "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" It was actually kind of annoying.
I did read, Terrier the Becca Cooper Story because of her name. It was worth it. Usually though I don't read a book just for my name.

Ann Van Gilder said...

While I love reading your blog about reading, I have always wished I were more of a voracious reader myself. I did not grow up with parents who were avid readers, but certainly have had plenty of adult years to develop my own reading habits. With that said, I can't think of any book that has an "Ann with no 'e'" character. There are plenty of "Anne with an 'e'" characters, but it is just not the same. The serenade I grew up with was the thumbs-up and index finger-pointing, "Annie Get Your Gun!" I've always hated being called "Annie." Only my brother calls me that and gets away with it!

Ginny said...

hey! you forgot one of the most popular books with "Ginny" in it! HARRY freaking POTTER :D that made me happy, i'm not gonna lie.

and i seriously thought i was the one who passed 'the only alien on the planet' to you ...i may be mistaken though.

Lydia said...

It seems that every time I come across my name in a book or movie, she's silly or "not very bright" or "the other woman". Lydia (apparently) doesn't have a very good track record. There's Pride and Prejudice, the movie Sliding Doors, and, who can forget about Beetlejuice. That's the one I got teased most about in grade school: "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!" Needless to say, it lost its novelty after the 100th Beetlejuice. :)

Great to meet you! Love your blog!
-Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

K said...

Actually, that character was named after my daughter, and she really goes by Ginna. But it is fun, huh, to find your name shouting out at you from a published page like that. I'll have to use Cecilia some time. I like it. Yeah, that'll be fun.

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