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OK to mix generic and proper names?

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What do you think of mixing generic and proper names for picture book characters? That is, the horse might be called Clydesdale and the chicken might be called Chicken and the goat might be called Sally.

I have a transportation-themed picture book and only the main character and one person have traditional people first names; the others range from generic to slang to defunct commercial names. The mix has caught the attention of some in my critique groups, but most took no notice.

Most commonly, I see uniformity, but I'm wondering if that is essential. Growing up, my brother and I named our several hundred Matchbox cars with a highly eclectic mix of names from Five O'Clock in the Morning (a police car) to London Broil (double decker bus) plus many that were simply Blue Mercedes or Corvette, and one that was just called Car. So, this is probably why it feels right to me, and I'm hoping it would to a 5-year-old.

Toy Story employs a wild mix of names for all the toys, and that rang true for me. Also, consider The Hundred Acre Woods with Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore and Christopher Robin, but also Rabbit and Piglet and Owl, with Tigger and Kanga and Roo being halfway between unique names and generic ones.

Thanks, Mike
#1 - March 11, 2014, 07:21 PM

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I don't have a problem with it.
#2 - March 12, 2014, 04:22 AM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

In the series about Franklin, the turtle, he is Franklin and everyone else is Bear or Beaver. In Winnie the Pooh, there are Winnie and Eeyore, but Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo.

Those are both older examples, but there are lots of precedents and you may be able to make it work. Or it may not be working, based on your CPs -- give it some thought.
#3 - March 12, 2014, 04:49 AM
Kell Andrews

THIS OR THAT, Tilbury House, 2021
THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, 2018

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It sounds fine to me (and I love your car names!). We had chickens and ducks, and they had names like that, too: Shylock and Antonio and Robin Hood and Frank and Jessie and Curioscape and...DuckDuck. I think that's just what kids do. :)
#4 - March 12, 2014, 05:09 AM

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It works fine to my ear. The LITTLE BEAR books tag all of the animal characters as animals, but the people have traditional names:

Animals: Little Bear, Mother Bear, Father Bear, Duck, Cat, Owl.
People:  Emily (little girl) and her doll, Lucy.

I think you can make up your own rules as long as there are not too many names to keep track of (name soup).

Best wishes!
#5 - March 12, 2014, 05:32 AM
Ten Clever Ninjas (picture book, Clear Fork Publishing, 2019)
Butterfly Girl (middle grade novel, Clear Fork Publishing, 2019)

Twitter: @kidlitSarah

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I have a seven-year-old grandson who has a stuffed bear named Men in Black, a stuffed monkey named Monkey, and a stuffed Rabbit named Sean (for Sean the Sheep). It all makes sense to him.

I think you're all right.  ::-)
#6 - March 12, 2014, 09:55 AM

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Thanks for all of your perspectives! I'm realizing my question speaks to me wrestling more broadly with making up my own rules versus hewing to convention. There's a necessary tension and balance between the two, which I'm trying to sort out.
#7 - March 12, 2014, 08:22 PM

Should be okay to mix them up.

But names do have significance and the reader might wonder why certain characters are named differently.

Although it's a bit different because you have pictures to match the characters, reading a name can make someone visualize things differently. Someone named Fiona would be differently perceived as, say, Roscoe, Al, or Gwendolyn, etc.

I'm probably over-thinking it, but with such a short word count, I wouldn't take anything - even names - for granted. I don't have a pet but it might be like naming one? Or naming stuffed animals when you were a kid. Names need to fit the character.


Winnie the Pooh might be a good example of this:
In the series about Franklin, the turtle, he is Franklin and everyone else is Bear or Beaver. In Winnie the Pooh, there are Winnie and Eeyore, but Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo.
The Winnie part of Winnie the Pooh was named after a bear from Winnipeg and the Pooh part is sorta explained here:
But his arms were so stiff ... they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think - but I am not sure - that that is why he is always called Pooh.
And, interestingly, Eeyore's name, I think, comes from the noise donkeys make eeeee-ooorrr.
#8 - June 21, 2014, 11:04 PM


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