Why Zora? Why Walter? Why Ivy? and Other Name Decisions

Naming characters is sometimes easy. It's usually not, for me, but it's always fun perusing baby name websites for possibilities.

Kelly in Red Is Best is Kelly because Kelly is the name of my daughter who inspired the story almost 40 years ago.

I named the boy in Big or Little? Matthew after my son who inspired that book. When Toni Goffe illustrated the revised edition, he asked if it would be okay to change the name that the boy can print himself to Toby. I’m glad I said yes. I later found out that Toby was the name of the illustrator’s son, who had died far too young.

Dylan in The Man with the Violin is Dylan because I wanted a name from the world of music that sounded contemporary.

For The Dog Who Wanted To Fly, I wanted a name that had a similar sound to the name of the dog who inspired the story (Georgia) but also had some connection to the idea of flight, and Zora (like soar?) was the best I could do.

Who are the two gentlemen in these photos and what do they have to do with naming characters?


They’re my grandfathers, whose names I decided to give to the best friends in Harry and Walter. No logical reason in this case. I just went from thinking to name the old man after one of them, then thought, why not name the young boy after the other? They were, after all, both young boys, once upon a time. (I think I started out giving the old man the name Harry but gave it to the boy in the end because it sounded younger to my ear than Walter.)

My next two picture books will feature characters with remarkably similar names: Anneliese and Anne. One fictional, one not, they were both, coincidentally, born in the 1930s. The similarity of their names is also pure coincidence.

If you’re a writer, what’s the most fun you’ve had naming a character?

If you’re a reader, which fictional character’s name are you most curious to know the reason for?


  1. Linda Love on December 5, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Hey, I recognize that Walter! What a lovely surprise to see his photo on your post. How wonderful that you named two of your characters after both of your grandfathers (and one of mine!). Sounds like a lovely subject for a book. I’m going to have to track it down.

    Hope you’re doing well, Kathy. It was so great to have you and Janet visit a couple of months ago (my, where does the time go?) and reconnect again. Every time I see that yellow moose on County Rd. 45 I think of you!

    Linda xo

    • Kathy on December 6, 2019 at 9:50 am

      That was a wonderful visit with you last spring. Time does fly and I hope it won’t be too long before we visit again, near a yellow moose or otherwise.

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