"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

About foreign names in picture books

I'm currently working on the last edits on my very first picture book, to be published next year by Tilbury House, Publishers. Yes, hurray ! And Yes, I still can't quite believe it. I regularly check the emails I exchange with the editor, reading them again to make sure it's all happening in the real world, and not only in my dreams.

So far, the editing process has been rather smooth. I really like my editor, even though I wish I knew more about her. But of course, she is very busy. Same with the publisher. Only bump on the road, so far? (Of course, there had to be a bump somewhere.) They would like me to change the name of my main character. Change WHAT???

I was first told it couldn't appear in the title. No foreign name in the title, especially one which pronunciation can be tricky. Now, Uma Krishnaswami - my teacher extraordinaire, and someone whose name is bound to appear from time to time in these virtual pages - once said that she regretted keeping Chachaji's name in the title of her picture book Chachaji's Cup. So, I decided to be very mature about it. I said "Fine. No name in the title."

I was already congratulating myself on being so reasonable and wise, when I was asked if I could possibly change the name completely ! That's almost like asking me to start calling my daughter differently, after I spent five years calling her by a name I happen to like or I wouldn't have chosen it, right ? This is the kind of issue that comes up in multicultural litterature. Or so I'm discovering.

I chose to tell the story of a boy who lives in an African country. He has an African name. Sometimes, foreign names are easy to pronounce for the Anglophone. But of course, I didn't choose one of those. I never even thought about pronounciation. I just liked the sound of that name, and that was it and the character must have liked it too, or he wouldn't have stayed alive, I don't think.

I have not yet resolved the dilemma. But you know what? I will again try to be mature and reasonable - now that my best writers friends have weathered the worst of my "freaked out" moment. I will try to find a new name for my boy ; a name that will better serve the story in the end ; either because it will be easier to pronounce, or because I will have found a way to avoid that pitfall. Writing - and being published - like so many other things in life- is so much about letting go.


Rilla said...

Hey Katia, Love your blog. About the name, I really do like the name Ifeanyi and I think kids love crazy sounding words as well. I wouldn't change it but I have a couple of options to offer. a) Dedication of the book at the beginning e.g. This book is dedicated to me -- Ifeanyi. It is pronounced -- If-ay-aan-yi and it means 'nothing is impossible'. etc.
or another possibility b) Call him Ifeanyi in the beginning but let him have a pet name such as Eefay etc.
Hope this helps. I don't think anyone finds changing their name is easy.....Rilla

Katia Novet Saint-Lot said...

Thanks, Rilla. The dedication idea is interesting. I also thought about adding an author's note at the end of the book. Thing is, not sure kids start reading those before they read the story. That may be a problem. As for the short - Ife happens to be a Yoruba name, so, for authenticity's sake, it may be problematic to call an Igbo boy by a Yoruba name - even though I actually like the idea of mixing all that. I mean, my husband and I gave our children African names, just because we liked their sound and what they meant, and I have a Russian name, although absolutely no one in my family is from around there. On the other hand, it's funny, because that football player from the Cincinatti Bengals I found on the web apparently does go by the nickname of Ife ! I sent the new version to the editor - with yet another option. I'm now waiting patiently... (read biting nails and compulsively checking emails every other minute) for some feedback :)