Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Holling Hoodhood, Skeezy Tookis, and Other Ridiculous Character Names

This week, Top Ten Tuesday's focus is on names, and specifically on characters for whom one might like to name a child, pet, or car. One of my children was named in part after a Madeleine L'Engle character, but aside from that one name, there aren't many I would want to use for real people (or animals). In fact, one of my major reading pet peeves is quirky character names. So that's what my post is about today - the names in children's literature that annoy me.

Here is just a selection of names from some of the middle grade and teen books I have read within the past few years:
  • Truly Lovejoy, Cha Cha, and Erastus (from Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick) 
  • Galileo Galilei (Gigi) and Delta Dawn (Didi) (from The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh) 
  • Skeezy Tookis (from The Misfits by James Howe)
  • Meadow Lark (from Found Things by Marilyn Hilton) 
  • Dickory Dock (from The Tattooed Potato by Ellen Raskin)
  • Quinny and Hopper (from Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen )
  • Sunny Holiday (from Sunny Holiday by Coleen Murtagh Paratore)
  • Sweet William and Agapanthus (from Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan) 
  • Holling Hoodhood (from The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt)
  • Tink (from The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers AND Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young) 
  • Silver (from The World from Up Here by Cecilia Galante)
  • Taco (from Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach
  • Chollie Muller (from Me and Miranda Mullaly by Jake Gerhardt)
  • Macallan (from Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg)
All of these names, except Dickory Dock, are used in realistic novels, not fantasy stories. In fantasy, names like Willy Wonka, Severus Snape, Bastian Balthazar Bux, and Bilbo Baggins work fine because the stories are set in their own worlds, and, generally, the names have significance within those worlds. But in realistic stories, it just does not ring true to encounter so many unusual names. It's worse yet when the characters in the story behave as though being named something like Sweet William or Skeezy Tookis is nothing out of the ordinary at all. I can only guess that authors choose these names because they are trying to make their characters stand out. And I can only argue that this is decidedly unnecessary. 

What makes a character unique and interesting is not his or her name. It is the character's voice, personality, quirks, and worldview that engage me as a reader. Some of the most memorable and beloved characters in children's literature have plain, ordinary names: Meg Murry, Claudia Kincaid, Bud Caldwell, Katie John, Nancy Drew, Billy Miller, Alice McKinley, Henry Huggins, etc. We remember their names because of the interesting things they thought, said, and did in their stories. Those things would certainly not be any more exciting if the characters had audacious names. If anything, I might take the characters less seriously and find their thoughts and words less sincere if they had names that sounded silly and served no purpose beyond quirkiness.

I would like to see more authors use the names of real kids in their books. That way, readers can get to know the characters for who they are, not what they're called, and there is a chance that every now and then a child will get to fall in love with a character who shares his or her name.


  1. I worked at an insurance company and we had a running list of ridiculous names of real life people. Some of my favorites are: Christmas Day, Joy The Clown, Chase Bumpers, and Chavin Pitts. I'm serious...these were real people. :) I like your take on this week's topic.

    Sandy @ Somewhere Only We Know

    1. Sometimes truth is even stranger than fiction. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I can't say I've read any of those, but what were those characters' parents thinking! :D

    Lauren @ Always Me

    1. LOL I keep thinking about a kindergarten teacher having to read out all those names on the first day of school.

  3. Sometimes it seems that authors choose names solely because they allow for a clever book title: Absolutely Truly, Navigating Early, Orbiting Jupiter, The Higher Power of Lucky, Stealing Snow, Burying Water, Chasing Brooklyn. Maybe The Importance of Being Earnest should get the blame.

  4. I love your take on the theme. And omg these names are totally ridiculous!

  5. Love it! I remember wondering why Holling Hoodhood never mentions the. . . oddness. . .of his name, nor does anybody else. The Wednesday Wars is one of my favorite novels of all times!