George or Melissa? It Matters.

George

Have you read George by Alex Gino?

If not, you should. It’s a heartwarming middle grade novel about a child who wants the world to recognize that she’s a girl. “George” is her given name, matching the gender her parents thought she was at birth, but that’s not who she is. She is Melissa:

They would ask her name, and she would tell them, My name is Melissa. Melissa was the name she called herself in the mirror when no one was watching and she could brush her flat reddish-brown hair to the front of her head, as if she had bangs. ~Chapter 1

However, if her name is Melissa, why is “George” the title of her story?

According to NPR,

“j wallace skelton [who studies transgender representation in children’s literature] says calling the book George when the main character identifies as Melissa effectively reinforces a sense of the child as a boy, rather than the girl she knows herself to be.”

NPR includes Gino’s response to this criticism:

“If I were going to name [the book] now, I would not have done that” […] Because it is the assigned name, not her chosen name. When I started the book in 2003, the name of the book was Girl George — which was clearly an homage to Boy George. And then when Scholastic got it, one of the first things they did was, they cut off ‘Girl’ because they wanted to open up the audience. And I didn’t even notice, in all of the things that happened, that I have effectively dead-named my main character.” By dead-naming, Gino means using the name that a person does not want used. “So I do feel conflicted about that.”

So the publisher chose the title of the book “because they wanted to open up the audience”?

Really 2

I can only assume the publisher felt the “audience” it needed to “open up” to was boys, who might be less likely to read a book with a “girly” name like Girl George or Melissa. But that stinks. There shouldn’t be “boy’s books” and “girl’s books.” Books are for everyone.

George is certainly cutting-edge for its portrayal of a transgender child in a book intended for a young audience. However, the story behind its title suggests that it might not be as big a step forward as it could have been.

12 thoughts on “George or Melissa? It Matters.

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  7. Alexandrina Brant

    Ack, I wrote a long comment, and then my internet tanked and I lost it :/ In summary: (particularly in Philosophy of Aesthetics) the author’s intentions I believe are important to the meaning and success of a piece of art/literature; publishers have every right to make changes, of course, but I’ve seen so many instances of these changes derailing what the author set out to do with their work.
    (And if you’d asked me to say what ‘George’ was about, I’d assume a boy and already be misgendering Melissa.)

    1. Yeah, it’s one of the potential drawbacks of going the traditional publishing route. It’s wonderful that Alex Gino’s book received the attention it did–largely because it was traditionally published–but that benefit comes at a price. There are pros and cons to everything.

  8. Jaclyn

    I’ve been wanting to read GEORGE since I first heard of the book before it was released (thank you, Book Riot, for always being ahead of the game) and I knew there was some controversy about the title. It’s really a shame, but one hopes that the conversation around the naming of the book will move the ball forward where the naming itself did not.

    1. “It’s really a shame, but one hopes that the conversation around the naming of the book will move the ball forward where the naming itself did not.”

      I hope so too. I also hope that those readers who wouldn’t have read the book without the stereotypically masculine name have learned that books about girls are awesome!

  9. Excellent commentary on such an important subject. I hope some day publishers will recognize the greater mission, but I realize people have been hoping that for years. Maybe she can re-brand it some day as ‘Melissa’.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I hope publishers will recognize the greater mission someday. I also hope that some of those boys “tricked” (if any were) into reading a book about a girl (Melissa) realized that books about girls are awesome. I understand why the publisher wanted to “open up” the audience, but I can’t believe they did that by literally striking out the word “GIRL.” Yikes.

      By the way, I should have mentioned it in my post, but Alex Gino “uses the singular-they, and the honorific Mx., pronounced “Mix”. (e.g. Mx. Gino is hoping they still have ice cream in the freezer.)” http://www.alexgino.com/about-alex/

      Thanks for the comment!

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