Posted in Writing

What’s In A Name?

This past April I wrote something a little different for Camp NaNoWriMo. Instead of my usual mystery novels or super-power fantasy novels, I decided to retell my favorite fairy tale.

I wrote The Lost Girl, a retelling of Peter Pan.

First things first, I had to do a bit of research about the time period. Peter Pan takes place in about 1904.

So, when coming up with a name for my lead female character, I looked up the most popular names from the 1900s. Grace was number 42 (according to the list I found).

I chose the name Grace because I think it’s a pretty name. It’s a common name. It’s simple. Even though it was popular way back then, it’s still pretty common.

The name Gwen is number 78 on that list. I like the name Gwen, but it’s never my first choice.

I was also trying to find a name for Grace’s mother as well. I ended up using Grace as my main character and a different name for her mother. Gwen didn’t make the cut at all. And to be honest, if a new female pops up in my story, I will not choose the name Gwen, no matter how big of a character she is.

Because while I don’t mind the name Gwen, there is just something about it. Something I don’t understand.

What's In A Name: Gwen

I’ve read a fair share amount of Peter Pan retellings lately. It’s partly why I decided to write my own. Peter Pan is my favorite and I thought of a great idea from the ABC show Once Upon A Time and from all the Peter Pan tales I had been reading.

If you follow my book reviews, you’ll know I’ve read some Peter Pan tales and I haven’t been a fan of a few of them. More than a few of them, actually. But I still add those tales to my to-be-read list anyway. They all sound good and I love Peter Pan, so why not give them a try?

I’ve noticed that fairy tale retellings have become pretty big lately and a lot of retellings that are coming out are about Peter Pan. This means getting The Lost Girl out in the world will either be pretty “easy” (I say that lightly) or really hard.

But I know there’s one thing my novel has that the others don’t: a different name.

Every time I go to my local bookstore with Kris, we always search through the young adult section. As I said, fairy tale retellings are what’s currently “in” at the moment and there are a lot of Peter Pan stories.

I found the novel Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell through Goodreads. The main character’s name is Gwen.

Then I found The Neverland Wars by Audrey Greathouse at the bookstore. The main character’s name is Gwen.

There was another novel I found at the bookstore, but I can’t remember the name or author at the moment. What I do remember is that the main character’s name was–Drumroll, please–Gwen.

I went back to the bookstore a few days ago and discovered a new Peter Pan story titled Everland by Wendy Spinale. As I picked it up off the shelf, I said to Kris: “I swear, if the main character’s name is Gwen…”

I started reading the summary in the front cover flap and stopped after the second sentence, which read:

“The only ones who have survived the destruction and the outbreak of a deadly virus are children, among them sixteen-year-old Gwen Darling and her younger siblings, Joanna and Mikey.” (Curtosy of Goodreads).

Why?

I don’t understand why the name Gwen is so popular among Peter Pan stories.

Is there something I’m missing? Is it a coincidence?

What I do know is that if I ended up choosing the name Gwen for my character, I would be changing it right now. Part of me wants to change Grace just because it starts with the letter “G.”

I don’t know if I’m overthinking things or not. I don’t even know if I have the right to be bothered by this. I just think it’s weird. None of these authors could choose a different name other than Gwen? Gwen doesn’t even have a special meaning that has anything to do with Peter Pan.

What’s even more strange is that Unhooked was published in February 2016. But The Neverland Wars was published May 9, 2016 while Everland was published May 10, 2016. All three books were by different publishers.

Weird, huh?

Names are important. And if you want your book to stand out from the rest, you have to give your characters names no one will forget; especially if you’re writing about the same topic as many others.

Have you ever noticed anything strange about different books like this? What do you think about this “Gwen” fad in Peter Pan stories? Let me know in the comments!

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

16 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Wow… that’s… unusual…

    That said, I find your choice of names ironic. My daughters are Gracelynne (Grace) and Gwendolynne (Gwen) respectively.

    It’s really weird that all the Peter Pan retellings have a Gwen, and I can understand wanting to change Grace’s name because of it. Nothing wrong with that. Do you have any ideas what you would change it to, or have you become so attached to the name that the character couldn’t be anyone but Grace? That sometimes happens. Fancy’s name was originally a placeholder that I just couldn’t change when the time came to do so. By then, no other name worked…

    1. I was thinking of you when I wrote this post because I knew one of your daughters is named Gwen and I thought the other was Grace, but I couldn’t remember. That’s kind of funny!
      I don’t know of I will change Grace’s name. It’s grown on me and no other names really come to mind. But maybe when the novel is fleshed out a bit more a different name would suit her.

  2. Nathanial Hawthorne had the right idea: Young Goodman Brown for his allegory and Hepzibah for a tall, thin spinster. I can just see her peering over her round glasses pinching up her mouth in disapproval from just reading her name.

  3. Both Gwen and Wendy are nicknames for Gwendolyn. While the Peter Pan story never says that Wendy’s real name is Gwendolyn, a lot of people assume it based on the time period and general atmosphere of the book. Gwendolyn would be her grown up name, while she goes by Wendy as long as she stays a child.

    Also, as a real life Gwendolyn, let me tell you how much it irks me to find “Gwen”s in fiction – a heck ton. Because they are always elfish, exotic, or evil. Thank you for not using my name. 🙂

    1. Ah, you learn something new every day! I had no idea Wendy was a nickname for Gwendolyn. So that makes sense then… But at the same time, does every author have to name an original character based off of Wendy for a Peter Pan novel? I still find it odd, lol.
      Well, I can promise you that my character is not selfish, exotic, or evil. So you’d have nothing to worry about if I ended up naming her Gwen. 😉
      Though now that you mention it… The few Gwens I’ve read have had those traits!

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