“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: “my name means the shape I am—and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”
HANK: Okay, first things first. My name is Harriet Ann. Mom's idea. We've discussed it, and she's still not sorry.
But in a book, the author is the Mom. So how do we choose? For me, two things happen. One type of character appears with a name already in place. Charlie. Knew her before I typed one word. It's as if I didn't make it up, that was simply her name. Franklin was Franklin Brooks Parrish instantly, it just came out of the computer before I even thought of it.
In real life, no one's name describes them, unless they change it later, or it's a coincidence. But in a book, a name has to work, and somehow make sense with the character. (Without being heavy handed of course. You’re not going to make a bad guy something like Dev Evilman unless it’s comedy or you’re Ian Fleming. And you’re not going to name a bad guy Ace Goodman. I guess.)
Some I struggle with a bit. Penny, for instance. Was instantly Penny. Then I thought no, maybe that’s not a hip enough name for an eight-year-old kid with contemporary parents. So I changed her name in the manuscript to Emma. Then Annie. Then Ella. And all the while, when she showed up in the story, I kept typing Penny. Because, apparently, that’s what her name is—Penny. And so she stayed.
Anyway—the naming of Josh Gelston, the Atticus Finch-looking college professor Charlotte is so interested in—was truly hilarious. My first boyfriend ever, I think when I was about seven years old? Was named Phillip Gelston. I wanted a non-ethnic, sort of strong last name that wouldn’t instantly telegraph anything. Gelston worked.
But he couldn’t be Phillip, because of my own last name. So I started thinking about names that were one syllable, masculine, strong, traditional not trendy, very simple and that someone who is about 48 would logically have been named. So I thought: Luke. Jake. Max. Sam. Ben. Josh. Yes, Josh. Then Joshua Ives Gelston just came out of my brain. Which I loved.
Soon after Prime Time was released, I got an email with the subject line: Hello From Josh Gelston. Can you imagine how weird that was? And turned out, there’s a very cool guy, a caterer to rock stars who lives in New Hampshire, and his name is Josh Gelston! And he says, his brother is Ben.
So how do you choose names? And how much do you notice others? What's your favorite name of a character? I signed a book at Borders recently for a little girl named Maddie Drummond. DIBS.
HALLIE: The protagonist of the novel I'm working on right now is IVY. It's a name I would have named one of my daughters but my husband couldn't be convinced. Names can be really hard. I keep a file of neat names for use when I'm stuck. Did you know Holly Golightly in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's was originally named Connie Gustafson? And that was before computers and the writers best friend: "Search and Replace."
Place names are tricky, too. There's the foreign country in Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop" - Ishmaelea (sounds like something out of the Marx Brothers). And what about the names authors give their fictional dogs? I always love Mother Theresa - the St. Bernard in Claire Cooke's "Must Love Dogs." Or the dog Bradley in Charles Baxter's "Feast of Love"
JAN: I'm oddly fixated on names. In fact, so are my brothers and both my children. We listen for names, remember, and almost always have strong opinions about them. It's weird. For me, names, especially female names, always have meaning, even if its the wrong meaning. In general, I'm pretty good about remembering names UNLESS I decide, in my wisdom, that you don't look like your name. For example, if your name is Patty, and you are a blonde, I think you are all wrong. In fact, I often think you are a Karen (always blonde) and will call you that. The other error I sometimes make is if you really, really look like a Peggy to me, I'll hesitate before I'll say your name because I'll question whether you really are Peggy or just look like a Peggy to me.
In naming characters, I find male names the hardest to come up with. That's because most men seemed to be named the same thing, depending on the generation, and there are fewer unusual male names that don't have strong connotations. I struggled with my protaganists boyfriend's name for weeks. The funny thing is that I finally decided on Matt Cavanaugh. A prosecutor in RI, I made him the the head of the criminal division. While writing the next book, I met the real head of the criminal division in RI, whose name was Matt and we became friends. In fact, he helps me with the book, and before I thanked him in my acknowledgments, I had to warn him that all my readers in Rhode Island would mistakenly think he's the model for the character.
RO: First and foremost, I love Dev Evilman! Can I use that? I had a hard time with names in Pushing Up Daisies and used placeholders most of the time I was writing it. Everything sounded boring, or obviously, stereotypically ethnic. My friends kids names are in there (of course nothing bad happens to any of them..)old colleagues, the fireman I lift weights with...no one was safe. And most of them stuck. One name I really liked my editor made me change, because she thought people wouldn't know how to pronounce it - Van Outryve. Is that hard? Whatever.
My protagonist's name is Paula, same as my sister's, who is no longer with us, but will be around as long as there's a copy of Daisies somewhere (someone's tag sale in 2016?)
HANK: I also offer a "your-name-in-my-next-book as an auction item for charity fund-raisiers. And that's just terrific. It's worked, perfectly, every time! Even, in the upcoming Air Time, where I'll be using the name Urszula Mazny-Latos to benefit the National Lawyer's Guild.
(And of course, Ro, Dev is yours.)