I recently read the novel Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which is an excellent book that has nothing to do with linguistics. Despite that, I ended up noticing something linguistically interesting about the characters’ names, specifically…
This is interesting. I pronounce the PIN and PEN vowels differently, but when I say “Catherine,” the RINE vowel goes all schwa … unless I’m really enunciating. In that case, it has a very lilted PIN sound. (Also, unless I’m enunciating, I say it in 2.5 syllables.)
When I wrote this, I imagined Cather and Wren’s mom splitting “Catherine” in two, and cheating a little to get two words that sounded like names.
I was inspired by my great-grandmother who didn’t realize she was having twins and didn’t feel like coming up with a new name. So “Josefina” became Josie and Fina.
I almost always imagine, when I’m naming main characters, what their parents were thinking when they named them …
It’s surprised me how many Fangirl readers have never heard the name Levi. I get asked how to pronounce it a few times a week on Twitter. (Levi has the same vowel sounds as KNEE-HIGH.) (Old Testament names are very popular in Nebraska.) (Here is a really weird Levi’s commercial where you can hear it said out loud.)
It’s also surprised me that many people pronounce Eleanor — ellenER. I pronounce it ellenOR.
People sometimes ask if Park is short for Parker. Nope. Park is a common Korean family name; I imagined it was his mother’s maiden name, and that his parents gave it to him as a tie to his mom’s family.
If you’re really looking at the names in my books, you’ll see that almost all the last names refer to places in Nebraska. Douglas and Sheridan are both counties. And Cather, Piper and Avery are building names at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln …
And Lincoln, of course, is the name of the main character of my first book.