Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What's In a Name?

The Name Game

I read a status on the author page this morning of a writer I appreciate and admire, Suanne Laqueur, about a character in the work she has apparently recently started on. Her comment was regarding the name of a character … and she further commented she has already changed it. (ASIDE: Laqueur’s debut novel, The Man I Love, is one of the best books I have ever read. It has deservedly won several awards and I highly recommend it.)

Funny about naming characters. Some writers seem to have a difficult time coming up with them for assorted reasons. Since I started on this path not quite three years ago at the ripe young age of seventy-five, names have seldom been a problem for me. Entire names. First, middle, last. I don’t always include that information in the books, but I know it. I visualize the character, and the first name pops into my head, and to this point I’ve only changed a character’s name once … and it was a middle name. But it became his son’s first name, so it was important.

When I wrote my first book, How I Grew Up,  it was based on an actual event which took place in 1954 to a high school friend. I fictionalized it, so I gave her another name. Anita Barker became Melanie Stewart. I’m not sure why I chose the name Stewart, but I had a voice student at the time named Melanie Meilinger. Melanie was … and is … a remarkable young woman with a great deal of inner strength, and my character was going to need that. For Melanie’s love interest in Carousel, I combined two long ago high school boys … I gave my character one boy’s quite remarkable tenor voice, and the other boy’s super good looks. Neither of them was named “Jamie” or “Logan” … it was just that when I looked at the amalgam my imagination had created, that’s who he was.

Jamie became the protagonist for my third novel, You Are My Song, and I needed a middle name for him at that point. I introduced his parents, and since his looks were definitely black Irish, his mother was Anna Laura Cleary, nickname Laurie. Jamie’s middle name was her father’s name, he was Ian Cleary. Until I learned Ian was Scots and not Irish.

My first dilemma with a name. I knew Jamie and his second wife (and if you want to know her name, you’ll need to read the book … it’s a good story, you won’t regret it) would have two children, and the second would be a son whom Jamie would name after his grandfather. As it happened, this character is a protagonist in novel number four, my work in progress, which I guess might have been percolating even as I wrote You Are My Song.

It was definitely hard to let go of Ian. I loved James Ian Logan. What a great name. So it had to have the same flavor. Finally, with some help from my Facebook friends, Larysa Martone-Bunn in particular, Jamie told me his middle name was actually Niall. Niall, meaning “champion.” He had just been humoring me that it was Ian. James Niall Logan … that name worked for me, and it has no doubt colored the way Jamie’s son, Niall Roger Logan, has evolved. Roger is Niall’s maternal grandfather’s name. It’s a family thing.

Oh, and it just dawned on me. Those two high school boys I melded into Jamie Logan? The good-looking kid’s initials were J.L. The subconscious at work, no doubt. He was also a super nice young man … a quality I gave Jamie.

But this is strictly a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


(The photo below is the late great tenor Franco Corelli in the role of Don José in Carmen, Jamie Logan’s signature role. This particular photo is very much how I envision Jamie, the mature artist.)


  1. Thanks so much for the shoutout! I loved reading this. Names are my nemesis, it takes me forever to find just the right one to match the picture I have in my head.

    Erik was always Erik in TMIL, and always with the first name Byron that never got used because it was his father's. His last name was Lindstrom for a long time, then it was changed to Fiskare when I thought of the Fish nickname.

    Daisy started out as Jeanmarie. Then she became Julie. Then my daughter was named Julie and I couldn't write about a character Julie without seeing my Julie. So I had to find another name which was torture. But then I found Daisy. Or rather, she found me :-)

  2. Oh, and Roger is one of my new characters. I love that name, you don't hear it much anymore. My son has a friend named Roger Squire. Is that the BEST NAME or what?!

  3. Thanks so much for the comment! I had read in one of your posts about Erik's last name being Lindstrom originally. Daisy was Jeanmarie? Well ... it's a nice French name. But I'm so glad you changed it. Roger is definitely a great name. Jamie's father-in-law is a pretty terrific guy and does some pretty nifty things. One of which is NOT buying his son-in-law a career in opera.

  4. Fascinating. One of the many reasons I write nonfiction instead of fiction these days is that when I did write fiction, I was never that good at naming my characters.

  5. I do get a mental image of a character and the name I give them works for me so far as helping to recall/project that image. The main bad guy in YOU ARE MY SONG is named Ronald Sommers. Does that give you any kind of visual at all? Just curious!

  6. I love the way your mind works! Thanks for sharing all the creative insight. I can't wait to read ALL your books. Glad I could help the tiniest bit in the process. - Larysa

  7. Thanks so much! And thanks for the comment! Hope you do read all my books!! I'd love that!