Humorous Names and Namingin Young Adult Literature by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen
“Hwæt”: The First Word in Beowulfon Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wrist
Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie uses names for ethnic identification, character development, plot development, and most of all humor, irony, and amusement.
Alexie says, “This book could have easily been titled 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.”
James Many Horses signs his letters as “James Many Horses III.” 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 doesn’t like 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 his. “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.”
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 Cries-Like-a-White-Boy.
David WalksAlong is Victor’s tribal chairman. He got his name from the fact that “WalksAlong walked along with BIA policy so willingly that he took to calling his wife a ‘savage in polyester pants.’”
Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game Andrew Wiggin is also known as Bastard, Ender, Fart Eater, Pinbrain, Pin Prick and Scrunchface. Bernard called him “Maladroit.” When Ender tells Mick that his name is “Ender” Mick responds, “That’s a name.” “Since I was little. It’s what my sister called me.” “Not a bad name here. Ender. Finisher. Hey.”
“Demosthenes” is Valentine Wiggin’s net name. Demosthenes (384-322 BC) was an important spokesman for military preparedness in Athens, Greece. “Locke” is Peter Wiggin’s net name. John Locke (1632-1704) was an English Philosopher who is known as “the father of empiricism.”
In a discussion about Pericles and Demosthenes and internet names, there is the following interchange: “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.” “Peter, you’re twelve.” “Not on the nets I’m not. On the nets I can name myself anything I want, and so can you.”
Like Ender himself, Bean 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 friends at Battle School are given names like Scorpion, Spider, Flame and Tide. These are all aggressive (war) names. 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!”
Sandra Cisneros’The House on Mango Street The House on Mango Street is a series of vignettes about a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. It has been acclaimed by critics, and is a favorite of children, their parents and their grandparents. It is being taught in venues as disparate as inner-city grade schools and university graduate classes.
Twenty-one out of forty-six chapter titles are names of persons or places. These are “The House on Mango Street” “Cathy, Queen of Cats” “Gil’s Furniture Bought and Sold” “Meme Ortiz” “Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin” “Marin” “Alicia Who Sees Mice” “Darius and the Clouds” “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark” “Geraldo No Last Name”
The people who live on Mango Street tend to have ethnic surnames like Cordero, Guerrero, Ortiz and Vargas. And they tend to have ethnic first names like Alfredo, Alicia, Alma, Angel, Angelo, Armando, Blanca, Elenita, Geraldo, Izaura, Jose, Marco, Marin, Mario, Noreida, Rafaela, Raul, Refugia, Renaldo, Rosa, Tito, Yolanda, Aunt Lupe and Uncle Nacho.
ESPERANZA CORDERO “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.”
“At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth.” “But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name—Magdalena—which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza.”
DANCE PARLORS HAVE NAMESAND DANCES HAVE NAMESBUT GERALDO HAS NO LAST NAME Marin met Geraldo at a dance. “She’d be the last one to see him alive. An accident, don’t you know. Hit-and-run. Marin, she goes to all those dances. Uptown. Logan. Embassy. Palmer. Aragon. Fontana. The Manor. She likes to dance. She knows how to do cumbias and salsas and rancheras even. And he was just someone she danced with.”
Geraldo No-Last-Name “They never knew about the two-room flats and sleeping rooms he rented, the weekly money orders sent home, the currency exchange. How could they?” “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.”
Eoin Colfer’s Artemus Fowl Books Eoin Colfer’s little people are derived from Irish mythology and folklore. In some ways, Eoin Colfer’s little people are the same as are the little people in Irish folklore. But in other ways, they are very different.
In the Artemus Fowl books, Colfer’s “fairies” are all of the races that live underground. The term “fairy” includes:
Eoin Colfer’s Mulch Diggums,One of Artemus Fowl’s Friends Mulch Diggums (aka Lance Digger, Mo Digence, and The Grouch) 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. Chapter 11 of The Arctic Incident is entitled, “Mulch Ado about Nothing.”
When it is Mulch’s job to disable a surveillance camera Mulch uses the Dwarf science of “reflexology.” “‘Every part of the foot is connected to a part of the body. And it just so happens that the left little toe is connected to my----’ Juliet gingerly grasped the toe, its black curly hairs obligingly parting to allow her access to the joint. Mulch fine tuned his aim. ‘Okay, Squeeze’” (The Eternity Code 221).
“Juliet held her breath, and closed her fingers around the joint. The pressure sped up Mulch’s leg in a series of jolts. The dwarf fought to keep his aim true in spite of his thrashings. Pressure built in his abdomen and exploded through his bum flap with a dull thump…. A missile of compressed air shot across the room, heat blur surrounding it like waves of water. ‘Too much topspin,’ groaned Mulch. ‘I loaded it.’”
“The air ball spiraled toward the ceiling, shredding layers like an onion. The unlikely missile impacted against the wall a meter ahead of its target. Luckily, the ricochet clipped the camera box, sending it spinning like a plate on a stick” (The Eternity Code 222).
Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese Cormier’s I Am the Cheeseis an example of a book where the names are integral to the plot. The metaphor in the title comes from the old nursery song, “The Farmer in the Dell.” Farmeris the surname of a family of three who have been assigned to the Government’s witness re-establishment program.
The parents are killed and the boy, whose name is Adam, is sent to an institution where he is regularly interrogated. At the beginning of the book, the family would sing the old song and laugh about how special they were to have a song made up about them. This happy time contrasts with the grim ending of the book when readers are left to decide which line is most appropriate: “The cheese stands alone” or “The rat takes the cheese.”
Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Bookcontains a great deal of dark onomastic play. The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Newbery Award. And it won the 2009 National Book Award. And when the author read the book into a CD, it won a major prize for “Best Recorded Book.”
How Nobody Owens in The Graveyard Book Got His Name Silas said, “Suppose we pick a name for him, eh?” Caius Pompeius stepped over and eyed the child. “He looks a little like my proconsul, Marcus. We could call him Marcus.” Josiah Worthington said, “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,” said Mother Slaughter, and almost everybody in the graveyard had a name for the Owens child.
“He looks like nobody but himself,” said Mrs. Owens, firmly. “He looks like nobody.” “Then Nobody it is,” said Silas. “Nobody Owens.” And throughout the book the name “Nobody” was shortened to “Bod” by the good people, and to “Boy” by the bad people. And Miss Lupescu calls him “Nimini” (211).
“Slaughter” becomes “laughter” in The Graveyard Book Mother Slaughter was “a tiny old thing, in the huge bonnet and cape that she had worn in life and been buried wearing.” “So Bod picked the red and yellow nasturtiums, and he carried them over to Mother Slaughter’s Headstone, so cracked and worn and weathered that all it said now was… LAUGH.”
Le Jacquerie,& How It Relates to The Graveyard Book Charles Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities was set during the French Revolution. In that novel, three of the characters were named Jacques 1, Jacques 2, and Jacques 3. This is because at this time the lower classes didn’t deserve to have real names. All non-aristocrats were part of “le jacquerie.”
Gaiman’s “Everyman Jack,” and the “Jacks of All Trades There is a prophesy that Nobody Owens will kill the Jacks of all trades. There is Jack Tar. There is Jack Dandy. There is Jack be Nimble. There is Jack Ketch. And there is “the man Jack,” whose real name is Jack Frost. And they are all trying to kill Nobody Owens.
The Alliterated Titles of Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket Books are as follows The Bad Beginning The Reptile Room The Wide Window The Miserable Mill The Austere Academy (assonance) The Ersatz Elevator (assonance) The Vile Village The Hostile Hospital The Carniverous Carnival The Slippery Slope The Grim Grotto Title Too Terrible to Reveal
The Snow Scouts in the Lemony Snicket books make the following Pledge: Snow Scouts are accomodating, basic, calm, darling, emblematic, frisky, grinning, human, innocent, jumping, kept, limited, meek, nap-loving, official, pretty, quarantined, recent, scheduled, tidy, understandable, victorious, wholesome, xylophone-loving, young, and zippered. After saying the pledge, they take a big breath and make a long, airy sound, as if imitating the wind.
There are many smart allusions in the Lemony Snicket books A character is named Dr. Georgina Orwell 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” In The Austere Academy there is the Prufrock Preparatory School The Vice Principal is named Nero The first names of Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire come from Claus and Sunny Von Bulow; their last name comes from a French poet, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
Isadora and Duncan Quagmire are named after Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) The Queequeg Submarine, the Herman Melville Team and the Ahab Memorial Hospital allude to Herman Melville and Moby Dick. The Herman Melville Team is opposed by The 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, The Nevermore Tree, and the Murder of Crows.
Each of the Lemony Snicket Books is Dedicated to Beatrice 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 yours. 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. The 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 Devine Comedy to Beatrice, who in the novel served as his guide through Paradise. With Gemma, he had a daughter named Antonia She became a nun, and took the name of Sister Beatrice.
Yann Martel’s Life of Pi Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was chosen as the 2004 One-Book Arizona. It had earlier won Britain’s Booker Prize. It was also on the New York Times best seller list for several months.
Mamaji, Pi’s father’s business partner and friend of the family was a world class swimming champion, and his favorite swimming pool was the Piscine Molitor. It was the crowning aquatic glory of Paris, indeed, of the entire civilized world. It was a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in. It was the only pool that made Mamaji fall silent, his memory making too many lengths to mention. That is how Piscine got his name. His full name was Piscine Molitor Patel.
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 has evaporated.” Even the teachers would forget to use his full hame and would call on him with “Yes, Pissing?”
This lasted through all the years at St. Joseph’s elementary school. 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 PI PATEL.
For good measure, he added (the Pi symbol) = 3.14 and drew a large circle, and sliced it in two “with a diameter to evoke the basic lesson of geometry.”
Louis Sachar’s Holes Louis Sachar’s Holes appears to be a story about a juvenile correction facility at "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 are a tower, a recreation hall, which is called the "Wreck Room," a barracks, a warden's cabin, two trees, a hammock, seven boys and four adults.
One of the "characters" in Holes is Camp Green Lake itself. It is a hole that has resulted from a curse on the community because of their bad behavior. The curse had caused the lake to dry up. It used to be a lake, but now it is a barren desert in the shape of a frying pan. So now it is a hole filled with holes.
The Boys at Camp Greenlake Zigzag walked funny. Magnet stole things. Squid was little. X-ray had bad eyes; also, his name was Rex, which is "X-ray" in Pig Latin. Armpit had been bitten in the armpit by a scorpion.
Caveman’s real name was Stanley Yelnats. Yelnats is Stanley spelled backwards. Zero couldn't read or write; also, his real name was Hector Zeroni. Barf Bag’s cot smelled like sour milk. Twitch was a fidgeter who stole cars.