On Naming Knitting Patterns

Posted by Stephanie Earp on

I love the stories behind names - whether it’s a new baby, a novel-in-progress or a knitting pattern, I’m always down with hearing what went into the choice.

It’s not easy, coming up with creative, catchy and memorable names for 12-14 patterns a year. There’s always a moment in the design process (usually the ‘miles of stockinette’ or ‘make second sleeve’ section) when I look down at the project in my hands and think “What am I going to call this?”

My first drafts are usually not terribly good. La Peregrina was called Lacy Heart Thing for awhile. Dorsett had several names, including Exploding Mittens and Amazonian Battle Boobs. At least those were memorable!

To get past these initial descriptive titles, I go into word-association mode. I looked at Lacy Heart Thing, and saw all that purling. “People hate purling,” I thought. “I wonder why they are called purls? I should Google that.”

And down the internet rabbit hole I went, no closer to a name. (Or to understanding the etymology of the word purl.) But in my head, the word purl had become its homonym, pearl. I thought about a string of pearls given to me by an old family friend, Sheldon. Maybe the pattern should be called Sheldon? But then, that started me thinking about the scene in When Harry Met Sally. And in the immortal words of Billy Crystal “A Sheldon can do your income taxes. If you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man, but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me, Sheldon.' 'You're an animal, Sheldon.' 'Ride me, big Sheldon.' It doesn't work.”

Each time I thought I had something, I’d search the name in the Ravelry pattern database. I’m not always against re-using a name I find there, but I like it to be an older pattern, published at least 5 years ago, and not something so popular that my pattern will be overshadowed by it.

The idea of the pearl stuck with me, and I suddenly remembered the book Furious Love, about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He’d bought her an absolutely enormous pearl, a famous jewel, something that had been owned by royalty. I searched for it and there it was, the perfect pattern name: La Peregrina. The name means The Wanderer.

I usually know I’ve found the right place to stop in my logical (and not-so-logical) leaps when the word or phrase is not only available in the Rav database, but it also somehow fits the pattern or some element of the design process. That happened with Stegner, a name that came to me relatively easily.

The Stegner sweater is a re-working of an old pattern, one of the first I ever published. Back then, it was called Delphine, after a knitwear designer whose cable work inspired me. But there are a LOT of patterns called Delphine, and I wanted something new to reflect the updates I’d made. It made me think about nostalgia, about going back your younger self… and as I was thinking about this, my eyes fell on my bookshelf and the novels of Wallace Stegner. His books are frequently narrated by someone older, looking back at their youth. And there’s a deceptive simplicity to his writing. For a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and founder of an influential creative writing program, he’s very readable. His books are not a slog. I thought my pattern had a similar quality - simple cable crossings and textures working together to create something that appeared more complex. And yeah, hopefully, not a slog.

As for Orange Tee Shirt, I just released it under the name Monarri. Monarri was a character in an obscure and unfortunately out-of-print fantasy novel I devoured in my adolescence, called Strandia. Monarri was a beachcomber, living right at the edge of the ocean. I love the name and I’m so happy I thought of it, but it does have one drawback: every time I say it, I get the song ‘Volare’ stuck in my head. And now, possibly, you will, too. Sorry!

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