Do you wonder how an author chooses names for her characters? In this story, the principal and one teacher have names that recognize Wisconsin landscapes: woods and marshes. The other teacher is named for galena, a mineral in lead. Why? Early settlers in the state included lead miners. They dug underground like a certain native animal and were called “badgers.”
Many names in the book reflect the European heritage of Wisconsin settlers. Boatman is a British name and also names a person for a job, which happens in many languages. Jacob shares his last name with many German-Americans and I simply picked one spelling of Schmidt. Lucy’s mom came from people named Marquette (after a famous Frenchman) and Birkebeiner (after the name of a skiing race in Norway). Mrs. Krakow is named for an important city in Poland, the homeland of many immigrants to our state. Of course, many other countries could be represented in a story about Wisconsin, too.
Some names stand for something or someone specific. The Boatmans live in Fond du Lac, home of Mercury Marine, which builds boat engines. The grandpa is named Jerry after Jerry Apps of Waushara County. He writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction set in Wisconsin (see www.JerryApps.com).
I found the name for Mr. Thornton in the public library when I browsed his collections of historical photos from my county. Later I discovered the writer Thornton Wilder was born in Madison. He won three Pulitzer Prizes for his books and plays (such as Our Town). Ask your club members how they might find names for a story of their own.
What about the first names of the Badger State Buddies? I wanted them to be easy for the readers to identify with, so they are popular names in many cultures. For example, Jacob is an ancient Hebrew name that became Jacques in French, James in English, and Diego in Spanish. Roberto is also common around the world. I named my character after Roberto Clemente, a baseball player and humanitarian from Puerto Rico. Hana’s family name, Xiong, is very popular in Hmong culture and is pronounced sort of like “shoong” or “she-oong.” UW-Extension of Eau Claire County publishes a Hmong cookbook (including recipes for egg rolls and sweet iced cucumber), and one of the contributors is a woman named Yer, just like Hana’s sister. Last but not least, the name Lucy means “light.” Lucy is not perfect, but she lets her little light shine, and I hope she will encourage other people to do the same.
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