Amazon Exclusive: David Levithan and John Green Talk About Names
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two teenage boys with the same name, whose lives intersect in unexpected ways. The book originated with the thought of giving two different boys the same name, and to give that name some meaning. It also comes from David's own experience. So to give you an inside peek at the making of the book, we figured it would be fun to give you insight into our own names, as well as Will Grayson’s.
To my knowledge, there are only two other David Levithans in the world – my dad’s cousin, and a lawyer in South Africa who, as far as we can tell, isn’t family. The last name Levithan is actually the invention of an immigration official – when my great-grandfather came to America from Russia, it should have translated to Levitan. But somehow the h got in there. Now, whenever I meet another Levithan (which is rare), odds are good that he or she is related to me.
That said, the story of Will Grayson, Will Grayson came from someone whose name is close to mine, but not identical. David Leventhal went to Brown at the same time I did, and people would confuse us often.
This ended up being something of a joke, because David was an extraordinary dancer, while I was…not an extraordinary dancer. So people would exclaim, “We had no idea someone as clumsy as you could be so graceful on stage!” and I’d have to say, “Well, un, that wasn’t me.” Finally, right before graduation, I contacted David and we met up. We became instant friends, and when we both moved to New York after college, we were always in each other’s company. The similarity of our names often threw people for a loop… and I thought, well, that might make an interesting story.
Amusingly, David Leventhal’s college roommate’s name was . . . Jon Green.
I was named after my great-grandfather, John Michael Crosby, an itinerant minor-league baseball manager and occasional catcher. I like my name, but being a John Green can certainly be inconvenient, because there are a lot of us. Among many others, there is John Green the realtor in Mississippi (who owns johngreen.com, much to my chagrin), John Green the Australian botanist, and of course John Green the world-renowned Bigfoot scholar. This last John Green, who is so revered in the field of Bigfoot research that he is often called “one of the four horseman of Sasquatchery,” is kind of my mortal enemy. I once wrote a magazine article in which I passingly noted that Bigfoot is, you know, fictional, and John Green replied with a letter arguing that my anti-Bigfoot stance was besmirching the good name of John Greens everywhere.
Such is the curse of being a John Green. Or a Will Grayson, for that matter.
We decided that I (David) would choose our character’s first name, and John would choose his last name. I liked the name Will because of its different, sometimes contradictory, meanings. As a noun, it can be so strong – where there’s a will, there’s a way, and whatnot. But as a verb, it’s split. Sometimes it’s just as definite (It will be done!), but that definiteness is underscored by an uncertainty – you say it will be done, but it hadn’t been done yet, has it? And put it at the start of a question (“Will you still love me tomorrow?”) and it becomes the entrance for all kinds of vulnerability. That seemed right for the characters.
I liked Grayson because whenever I would hear that name, it always sounded to me like “grace in,” which always struck me as a richly ambiguous phrase – is “grace in” the beginning of a clause or the end of it? Are we being asked to find grace in something, or to let grace in? Those questions seemed like interesting ones for the guy I wanted to write about.
From School Library Journal
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