Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature
From the Nilsens
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature
Names and Naming
in Young Adult Literature
by Alleen Pace Nilsen and
Don L. F. Nilsen
Historically, surnames in England and Europe
told stories about their owners because they
were based on:
• ATTRIBUTES, e.g. Black, Brown, Longfellow,
Powers, Short, Truman, White
• OCCUPATIONS, e.g. Archer, Baker, Carpenter,
Chandler, Sellers, Thatcher, Wickman
• PATRONYMS, e.g. BenGurion, Bin Laden,
Colovitch, Fitzgerald, MacDonald, Nilson, O’Reilly
• PLACES, e.g. Bankhead, Churchill, Greenspan,
North, Sutherland, Wells
The Book The Movie
Sherman Alexie is a master as shown in
his book Confessions of a Part-Time Indian, and in his
film Smoke Signals, which was based on his collection
of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight
• Alexie said his title could have just as easily been
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Get Drunk, Fistfight, and
Then Fall into Each Other’s Arms and Confess Their
Undying Platonic Love for Each Other in Heaven
Followed by a Long Evening of Hot Dog
Regurgitation and Public Urination.”
• Between 1933 and 1954, The Lone Ranger radio
show presented nearly 3,000 shows and was later
adapted for TV, comic books, movie serials, and a
• Tonto was the Lone Ranger’s Indian sidekick whose
name means something like “stupid” in Spanish, but
in reality, Tonto was often the “smart” one.
• One of Alexie’s characters, James Many
Horses signs his letters as “James Many
• He’s the only James Many Horses on the
reservation, “but there is a certain dignity to
any kind of artificial tradition.”
• When Simon likes James Many Horses, he
calls him “Jimmy Sixteen-and-One-Half-
Horses.” When he’s mad at him, he calls him
“little Jimmy Zero-Horses.”
• Near Christmas, Rosemary Morning Dove
gave birth to a boy. Rosemary said she was
a virgin, but Frank Many Horses said it was
• Rosemary Morning Dove named him ___
which is unpronounceable in Indian and
English but it means: “He Who Crawls
Silently Through the Grass with a Small Bow
and One Bad Arrow Hunting for Enough Deer
to Feed the Whole Tribe.”
• “We just called him James.”
• Tribal chairman David WalksAlong got his
name from the fact that he walked along with
BIA policy so willingly that he called his wife
a “savage in polyester pants.”
• In first grade, Junior Polatkin was always being
picked on, so his Indian names became:
- Junior Falls Down, or
- Bloody Nose, or
- Steal-His-Lunch, or
…even though none of us had ever seen a white boy
Sandra Cisneros’s best known book is
The House on Mango Street.
It is a series of vignettes about
a young girl growing up in the
Latino section of Chicago.
Common surnames are
Cordero, Guerrero, Ortiz, and
Vargas. Given names include:
•Aunt Lupe and Uncle Nacho
Names in The Hunger Games
• Katniss Everdeen
• Peeta Melark
• Gale Hawthorne
• Plutarch Heavensby
• Effie Trinket
• Greasy Sae
• Alma Coin
• Marvel, Cato, Brutus &
• Seneca Crane
ESPERANZA CORDERO is the
narrator and she hates her name.
She writes, “In English my
name means hope.
In Spanish it means too many
It means sadness, it means
It is like the number nine. A
It is the Mexican records my
father plays on Sunday
mornings when he is
shaving, songs like
• Esmeralda wants to baptize herself with a new name:
“Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something
like Zeze the X will do.”
• An especially sad story is entitled, “Geraldo No Last
Name.” He was a boy killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Cisneros wrote: “His name was Geraldo. And his
home is in another country. The ones he left behind
are far away, will wonder, shrug, remember. Geraldo
—he went north…we never heard from him again.”
Orson Scott Card grew up in the Phoenix
area. He began writing plays, which is
how he developed his skill with dialogue.
He wrote Ender’s Game in 1985. It has
grown increasingly popular and is now a
• Readers are amazed at how
prescient Card was about
young people and
• The plot centers around a
child genius taken to a
school for special training.
• He saves the world with his
skill in what he thinks is a
computer game, but is
actually “for real.”
• When Ender first arrives at the school, he tells Mick
that his name is “Ender” Mick responds, “That’s a
• “Since I was little. It’s what my sister called me.”
• “Not a bad name here. Ender. Finisher. Hey.”
• Ender’s sister is named Valentine, and she too plays
a crucial part in the story.
• Andrew Wiggin is also known as Bastard, Fart Eater,
Pinbrain, Pin Prick and Scrunchface. Bernard called
• “Demosthenes” is Valentine Wiggin’s net
• Demosthenes (384-322 BC) was an important
spokesman for military preparedness in
• “Locke” is Peter Wiggin’s net name.
• John Locke (1632-1704) was an English
Philosopher who is known as “the father of
When Ender and Valentine are talking about
Locke and Demosthenes as their internet
names, Ender says,
“Val, we can say the words that everyone else
will be saying two weeks later. We can do
that. We don’t have to wait until we’re grown
up and safely put away in some career.”
Valentine responds, “Peter, you’re twelve.”
“Not on the nets I’m not,” he responds, and
then adds, “On the nets I can name myself
anything I want, and so can you.”
• Ender’s best friend at the school is named Bean, and like
Ender, he is young and undersized.
• “Name, kid?” “This soldier’s name is Bean, sir.” “Get that for
size or for brains?” Bean is an ironic name, as is Fly Molo.
• Ender’s fellow students at Battle School are given aggressive
(war) names like Scorpion, Spider, Flame and Tide.
• Other friends and allies are Alai, Mick and Petra Arkanian (aka
“baby butt” and “Petra the Poet”), and Dink Meeker.
• Shen is nicknamed “Worm” by Bernard “because he’s so
small, and because he wriggles. Look how he shimmies his
butt when he walks.” Shen stormed off, but they only laughed
louder. “Look at his butt. See ya, worm!”
• The effect of all these strange names is not only to
characterize the students, but also to remind readers that they
are in a very different world.
Yann Martel and his Life of Pi
• Life of Pi was the
winner of our 2004 One-
• It had earlier won
Britain’s Booker Prize.
• It was on the New York
Times best seller list for
several months and in
2012, was made into a
The story begins realistically in India, where Pi’s father
manages the city zoo, so fortunately Pi grows up learning
about training animals.
Another piece of good luck is that from an early age, Pi was
trained as a swimmer by his father’s best friend who had
swum in the Olympics in the Piscine Molitor pool in Paris.
It was this friend who had
convinced the Patels to
name their son after the
swimming pool, which he
described as a pool that
would have delighted the gods.
The book opens with the Patels
moving to Canada with the
most valuable zoo animals.
But alas, it was not to be. The great ship
sank in the middle of the Pacific.
• And Pi found himself on
a lifeboat with a very
• They were later joined
by Orange-Juice, a
great orang-utan who
came floating toward
the lifeboat on an island
• And this is where the
story slips into fantasy.
Earlier in school, Piscine had trouble with his strange
name. Some people thought that he was an Indian
Sikh by the name of “P. Singh.”
Pi’s classmates called him Pissing Patel, and they
would ask “Where’s Pissing? I’ve got to go,” or they
would say, “You’re facing the wall. Are you Pissing?”
After these taunts, “the sound would disappear, but the
hurt would linger, like the smell of piss long after it
Even the teachers would forget to use his full name and
would call on him with “Yes, Pissing?”
This lasted through all the years at St.
Joseph’s elementary school.
But on the first day at Petit Séminaire (high
school), when it came time for each student
to announce his name, Piscine went to the
chalkboard and wrote:
MY NAME IS
PISCINE MOLITOR PATEL,
KNOWN TO ALL AS
For good measure, he added
π = 3.14
and drew a large circle, and sliced it in two “with a diameter to
evoke the basic lesson of geometry.”
Gary Paulsen and His Editor
• Colfer is an Irish author
whose Artemus Fowl books
are especially popular with
• In some ways, his “little
people” are the same as in
• But in other ways, they are
In the Artemus Fowl books, the “fairies” are all
the races that live underground, including:
• Mulch Diggins is one of Artemus Fowl’s Friends, also
known as Lance Digger, Mo Digence, and The
• He is a kleptomaniac dwarf who has been convicted
many times for “digging and entering.”
• He loves to unbutton his bum flap and destroy
whatever is behind him with a blast of stinky air.
• In The Eternity Code, he uses this technique, with a
whole variety of complications thrown in for laughs,
to destroy a surveillance camera.
Neil Gaiman’s fascinating book is about a
toddler, whose parents have been murdered,
and so he wanders into a cemetery.
A ghost named Mrs. Owens is happy to take on
the responsibility of raising him, and so she
starts first to find a name for him.
• Caius Pompeius steps over and eyes the child. “He
looks a little like my proconsul, Marcus. We could
call him Marcus.”
• Josiah Worthington says, “He looks more like my
head gardener, Stebbins. Not that I’m suggesting
Stebbins as a name. The man drank like a fish.”
• “He looks like my nephew Harry,” says Mother
Slaughter (whose gravestone is so worn that it now
• Almost everybody in the graveyard offers a name for
the Owens child.
• But Mrs. Owens firmly says, “He looks like
nobody but himself.”
• “Then Nobody it is,” says Silas. “Nobody
• Throughout the book the name “Nobody”
was shortened to “Bod” by the good people,
and to “Boy” by the bad people.
• Except for Miss Lupescu who calls him
Gaiman’s “Everyman Jack,” and
the “Jacks of All Trades”
Nobody Owens is prophesied to kill the
Jacks of all trades—the men who
murdered his parents.
There is Jack Tar, Jack Dandy, Jack Be
Nimble, Jack Ketch, and “the man Jack,
whose real name is Jack Frost.”
And they are all trying to kill Nobody
Names for Dual Audiences
Parents and Children Listening Together
• Audio tapes and CDs
are now being released
• Daniel Handler’s
Lemony Snicket books
communicate at one
level with children and
at another level with
Here are some of the smart allusions that make
adults smile while being ignored by kids.
• Georgina Orwell is an eye doctor who watches over everyone.
• Esmé & Jerome Squalor’s Penthouse is at 667 Dark Avenue.
Their names come from J. D. Salinger’s Short Story: “To Esmé
with Love and Squalor”
• Violet’s name comes from T. S. Eliot’s “The Violet Hours.”
• The Prufrock Preparatory School is an important part of The
Austere Academy, where the vice Principal is named Nero and
makes the students stay up late and listen to him fiddle.
• The names of Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire remind adults of the
infamous murder case centering on Claus and Sunny Von
• And adults might recognize their last name as coming from the
French poet, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867).
• Isadora and Duncan Quagmire remind adults of
Isadora Duncan, who choked to death in 1927when
her scarf caught in the wheels of a roadster.
• The Queequeg Submarine, the Herman Melville Team
and the Ahab Memorial Hospital all allude to Herman
Melville and Moby Dick.
• The Herman Melville Team is much superior to the
opposing Edgar A. Guest Team.
• Patients in The Heimlich Hospital include Emma
Bovary, Clarissa Dalloway, Orlando, and Sappho.
• Also in the Lemony Snicket books, there is a Mr. Poe,
a Nevermore Tree, and a Murder of Crows.
Each of the Lemony Snicket books is dedicated
to Beatrice, apparently in honor of Dante’s star-
• To Beatrice—Darling, Dearest, Dead…
• For Beatrice—You’ll always be in my heart, in my
mind, and in your grave.
• For Beatrice—When we were together I felt
breathless. Now you are.
• For Beatrice—Our love broke my heart, and stopped
• For Beatrice—When we met, my life began. Soon
afterwards, yours ended.
• For Beatrice—Summer without you is as cold
as winter. Winter without you is even colder.
• To Beatrice—My love flew like a butterfly,
Until death swooped down like a bat. As the
poet Emma Montana McEllroy said: “That’s
the end of that.”
• For Beatrice—When we met, you were pretty,
and I was lonely. Now, I’m pretty lonely.
• For Beatrice—Dead women tell no tales. Sad
men write them down.
Beatrice in Dante’s Divine Comedy
• At age 9, Dante Aligieri met Beatrice Portinari, and fell in love.
• They greeted each other on the street for 16 years.
• Dante was promised to another woman, Gemma.
• In 1290, at age 25, Beatrice died.
• Dante took refuge in writing to and about Beatrice.
• Dante dedicated his Divine Comedy to
Beatrice, who in the novel served as
his guide through Paradise.
• With Gemma, he had a daughter
• She became a nun, and took the name
of Sister Beatrice.
Louis Sachar in Holes uses funny
names to balance out a sad story.
• It is set at a juvenile
correction facility known as
"Camp Green Lake." But
there is no "camp," in the
fun sense of the word, and
there is no "green," and
there is certainly no "lake.“
• Instead, there is a tower, a
recreation hall, called the
"Wreck Room," a barracks, a
warden's cabin, two trees, a
hammock, several boys and
The boys at Camp Green Lake are
named after their characteristics
• Zigzag walks funny.
• Magnet steals things.
• Squid is little.
• X-ray has bad eyes;
also his real name is
Rex, which in Pig Latin
• Armpit was once bitten
under the arm by a
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter
• What are the names of the four houses?
• What are the names of Harry Potter’s friends? Do they have other
• What are the names of Harry Potter’s enemies?
• What are the names of James Potter’s friends? Do they have other
• What are the names of Harry Potter’s teachers?
• What are the flavors of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans?
The Four Houses of Hogwarts
• (Godric) Gryffindor
• (Helga) Hufflepuff
• (Rowena) Ravenclaw
• (Salazar) Slytherin
The Four Houses of Hogwarts
Harry Potter’s Friends
• Ludo Bagman
• Hermione Granger
• Ron Weasley
• Ginny Weasley
• George Weasley
• Cedric Longbottom
• Neville Longbottom
Harry Potter’s Enemies
• Draco Malfoy
• Lucius Malfoy
• Narcissus Malfoy
• Rita Skeeter
• Lord Voldemort/Tom Marvolo Riddle
James Potter’s Friends
• Sirius Black/Padfoot: A Dog
• Professor Lupin/Mooney: A Werewolf
• Peter Pettigrew/Scabbers/Wormtail: A Rat
• James Potter/Prongs: A Stag Deer
Names of Hogwarts Faculty:
• Professor Binn (the past tense of the verb to be) is a ghost teacher of history
with “deadly dull lectures.”
• Severus Snape gets more and more severe as the books progress.
• One of Mad-Eye Moody’s eyes is loose in its socket.
• Like Mad-Eye Moody, Argus Filch also keeps an eye on the students. Argus in
Greek mythology had many eyes, so now we have Argus Peacocks, and Argus
• Professor Umbridge’s name is close to “umbrage.”
• Professor Minerva McGonagall was named after Minerva, the Greek God of
Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans
Baking Soda Beanstalks Brussel Sprout Caterpillar
Centipede Chewing Gum Cough Medicine Dirt
Earwax Egg Yolk Horse Radish Ink
Liver Mud Onion Paint
Paprika Parsnips Rotten Egg Sardines
Soap Sulphur Tripe Vomit
In conclusion, Life is a Journey
• The subtitle of J. R.
R. Tolkien’s The
Hobbit is “There and
• So we feel that this
is an appropriate
Lemony Snicket in 120 Seconds: