My newest book is “The Think, Then Do Karate Kid.” It features several bullying incidents with a singular bully. While I wrote the early drafts of the text, I struggled with what to call the kid behind the maltreatment. This turned into the evolution of what to call a bully.
Initially, the kid in Michi’s school who did the bullying started out with no name. I just called him a kid at Michi’s school, or the kid, or he. This was because I didn’t want to give him a name and then have any kids reading the book happen to have the same name. A bully can be anyone by any name. And I didn’t want to plant any seeds that a kid with a specific name should be a bully. Or even have a kid with the same name be bullied because of the coincidence.
Then, I decided that it would read better if the bully had a name, even though he is not a main character. I looked up the symbolism for boys’ names and tried to find some that had a bully root. The only name I found was Brutus – the classic bully name.
Brutus is the name of the villain in the Popeye cartoon. Historically, it’s also the last name of a traitor who had to do with Julius Caesar’s demise. One draft of my book had Brutus as the bully’s name. But then, I thought that Brutus is an extremely rare name. I would feel sorry if a kid named Brutus read my book only to find that the bully shares his name. It would also make it more likely that a kid named Brutus would be bullied because of the coincidence. So I still had the question: What to call a bully?
A Plan for What to Call a Bully
I decided then to go the opposite route. Maybe I could use a very common boys’ name. If you know a lot of people with the same name as a bully in a book, you probably wouldn’t make the leap into teasing them for having the same name. If it’s a very common name, then that means they will have the same name as many people.
In thinking about my own childhood, I had a very common name. There were usually two or three of us Jennifers in any given class. Nobody ever made fun of me for having the same name as a bully or as anyone else. And I’m sure there were plenty of bullies named Jennifer.
So I went back to my research into boy’s names. This time I compared the most common baby boy names for kids in my demographic. I looked at several years from, about four to eight years ago. (I was thinking into the future.) I found that Liam was the most common boy’s name in the U.S. Definitely most common if you combine William and Liam, and Liam is a nickname for William. Many of those years listed had both William and Liam (independently) in their top 10 most popular boys’ names.
So after the evolution of the name in my various book drafts, I had the name. I knew what to call a bully. At least for this one story. That’s how he came to be called Liam.