I was recently asked why I would give a protagonist who is the proverbial plain Jane an interesting name such as Willow Mae Pillbean. Why didn’t I choose something more common, like Mary, Anne, or even Lucy? (although I really don’t find Lucy all that common)
Writers name their characters with the same care they name their children. Willow Mae Pillbean was no exception. At first glance she is a self-confident, routine oriented, content young woman who seems to be wandering through life on a path to nowhere. As the book progresses and the inner workings of her mind are revealed, she gives the reader a glimpse of her true personality. While she is resilient and strong, there is also a fragility about her to which I think we all can relate.
The Willow tree is tremendously resilient and able to grow in even the most adverse conditions. It is one of the few trees that can bend in outrageous poses without snapping. The message here is to adjust with life rather than fight it. As Willow Pillbean meanders through the challenging month of Newvember, she learns to draw from her strengths so that she can grow and adapt to her ever-changing environment.
Likewise, her best friend Angela is very much like the guardian angel her name suggests. She sees Willow’s life from a different perspective, knows her friend has the strength of character to be more and pushes her forward. Without her presence, Willow never would have strayed from her path to discover some very important truths about herself.
Then we have Sawyer – a name blatantly taken from one of my favourite books, Tom Sawyer. Full of mischief, slightly misunderstood and confused, Sawyer leads Willow down a path that could have destroyed her, but she manages to yield her flexible nature and comes out so much stronger in the end. Sawyer’s name is also reflective of his personality, it literally means “one who saws wood” – without giving too much away, we can see how his name on its own is a detriment to Willow.
Finally, I’ll tell you just the tiniest bit about Olive, who is so dear to me that I can hardly write about her without feeling as though I am giving away a small piece of my soul. Originally she was named for my great grandmother Olive Finch, just because I like the name and have very fond memories of her from my childhood. As you’ll see if you read the book, even Olive’s name fits in with this wooded theme when she offers “an Olive branch” and helps Willow to restore her inner peace.