Recently, I was browsing the library’s new books section, when I came across a book that contained my fairly uncommon maiden name in the title. The moment of recognition was a little stunning, and I’ve been reeling from it and thinking about it ever since.
Examining My Namesake
First, I immediately read the inside jacket copy and the praise on the back of the book. The story chronicled a complex adult family returning to visit each other for an important occasion, each person holding secret feelings and thoughts that they couldn’t quite share. I immediately thought about how this represented a kind of novel I enjoyed reading, detailing the minutiae of interesting people’s brains. It interested me even more as a potential juxtaposition onto my own family. The first names didn’t resonate with my family, but it felt so personal to have the plot outlined with my name.
Then, I looked at the feedback on the back cover; it felt like fate that two of my recent favorite books were used a comparisons to favorably recommend this one. I couldn’t imagine getting so lucky: a plot that intrigued me, a high-quality comparison in a recommendation, and my name? How interesting.
It was definitely the first time I’d seen my last name on the cover of a book, though my first name is very common. I first saw Laura as a character when I was in elementary school, tearing through the Little House on the Prairie books. Never mind that I wouldn’t have done well at all as a stoic pioneer-woman in a cold, unforgiving agrarian lifestyle; I felt fully drawn into the story once the character was named Laura.
Diverse Books, Diverse Names
Here at Book Riot, we often talk about how much we want diverse representation in the books we read. We want to hear from people of all backgrounds, races, and creeds when we read. It makes us better able to understand the world. Having a name like Laura, I’m already in a privileged vein of the book-reading public. I’m one of the people who can find their name in a book. Noticing this reaction anew, however, as an adult seeing my maiden name on a cover, I realize that there is at least one other reason why diverse representation matters in books.
When wonderful writers of all backgrounds are able to publish and distribute their books, they spread greater diversity of names of characters as well. Certainly, the exact name of any given character doesn’t matter in a big picture, but to the one, or two, or three people with that name who see it for the first time, it’s a game changer. They are reflected in literature: there is something that profoundly matters in finding yourself in those pages.
Yes, this is a pretty romanticized notion of reading books, but I also think there are practical concerns as well. When your name is reflected in the canon, there is an unconscious kind of legitimacy that isn’t necessary but is certainly affirming. In a world where all manner of things can tear down a child or teen and make them feel less worthy, finding their name on a brave, strong hero of a story can remind them of their value. It’s not enough on its own, but it is something.
Creating Reading Community With Names
It doesn’t hurt for writers to connect with those who find so much meaning in the names of a novel. Writers rely on readers’ responses in no small part as they push on to the next book project. I daily consider whether or not to write to the authors of books that have stunned me. I want to tell them about my reactions to their work, the way they made me feel less alone. I’d certainly be happy to tell Laura Ingalls Wilder about it. I’d also tell the author of my recent find about just how powerful it is to find my name in their pages.
At the same time, it makes me want to keep reading outside my comfort zone. I want to promote new and diverse reads by talented new authors. That way, those books have a better chance of getting worldwide attention. That attention will get them into the hands of people whose names are reflected in their pages too.