Blog / 2019 / Shout-out to the Kids with “Weird” Names

December 16, 2019

The animal alphabet book I am currently creating will have 676 first names embedded in it—26 names beginning with each of the 26 letters. I love this part of my book for so many reasons. It helps with letter recognition, promotes artistic literacy, makes the book more interesting for older kids, and creates encounters with names from other cultures, all while also honoring the people who are named. But this word search element still bums me out a little bit.

I can’t be sure that every child’s name will appear in the book, and I know how that feels.

I used to take it personally when my name (which is relatively uncommon in the US) never appeared on key chains or those tiny license plates kids hang on their bedroom doors. It was as if everyone was telling me: “you’re weird.”

It took a while, but eventually I realized that I didn’t want name-branded tchotchkes—I didn’t care about the conformity that such objects imply. At some point, it didn’t even bother me if people spelled my name wrong. My “Gwenn” regularly becomes the more common “Gwen” or the inexplicable-to-me “Gween” in email exchanges. There’s a freedom in recognizing that it really doesn’t matter.

Sure, novelty items with your name emblazoned on them indicate a certain amount of societal acceptance from the culture that mass-produces them. Just like misspellings of your name can be a reflection of the care that people do or don’t take. But the truth is that learning to let go of these slights helped me set myself free from a lot of other trivial stuff too.

I began to view my name both as something that makes me special and as a reminder that a name cannot define me. This latter lesson is particularly interesting. When you forget the idea that something as superficial as your name matters and think of your life in terms of what else might be able to sum you up to the world, then you’re onto something good.

All of which is to say, that even if Baby Sees ABCs doesn’t have your name it, maybe your friends Valentino, Valerie, Vali, Vanessa, Vasco, Vashti, Veda, Vee, Vega, Vemvane, Venus, Vera, Veronica, Vertamae, Victoria, Vida, Vilma, Vincelle, Vincent, Violet, Vipin, Virgil, Virginia, Vishnu, Vivian, and Vladimir will finally have their names appear in something, and that will be a nice thing for you too!

V Is for Vulture is for sale for $1500 plus shipping. If you want prints or other pretty items with this image, check out my Redbubble shop. The full book will be available in spring 2020.

turkey vultures sunning themselves, colorful wildlife art
Gwenn Seemel
V Is for Vulture
2019
acrylic on panel
14 x 14 inches

Here’s what I’ve been reading since my last alphabet book update:

  • Making Comics by Lynda Barry

    This is Barry’s most recent book, and in a lot of ways it sythesizes what she’s already said and drawn in What It Is, Picture This, and Syllabus, each of which I talk about in greater detail in this post. Still, I think Making Comics is worth a read because I love Barry’s approach to creativity so much! Plus, in this book, Barry cites her friend Dan Choan, saying that images “carry emotions the way the earth carries its own weather patterns, always in motion, never fixed.” The idea of art having an emotional climate that shifts based on who is experiencing it pleases me.

  • Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey

    The writing is simple and beautiful, but the story is so tiredly binary, so thoroughly heteronormative, and so completely cynical that I cannot recommend this novel. I started reading it because one of the characters is a portraitist and I’m fascinated by how others see my chosen genre. I finished it because I wanted to see if Dovey would manage to make something interesting of her pessimism.

  • The Cult of Trump by Steven Hassan

    If you’ve read a lot about Donald Trump and about how cults work, this book contains no new or surprising information, but it does bring those facts and concepts together in a compelling way. It also makes suggestions for talking with Trumpian true believers that I, for one, will probably be using this Christmas when I hang out with certain MAGA-licious family members.

  • Gaslighting America by Amanda Carpenter

    I disagree with Carpenter on almost everything that matters, but it is satisfying to hear a dyed-in-the-wool con describe 45’s strategy for becoming the first out-and-out dictator of the United States. I would suggest reading this book along with Kent Greenfield’s The Myth of Choice, Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged, and, of course, Steven Hassan’s The Cult of Trump.

UPDATE

June 24, 2020

Baby Sees ABCs is out and available here! You can see all the illustrations from the book in this online gallery.


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