by Marcia Talley
Like most authors, I take the naming of characters very seriously. In fact, I can’t write about a character, until I know what his or her name is. Would “David” run a marina? I don’t think so, but somebody named “Hal” would.
When I wrote my first novel, Sing It To Her Bones, I always knew the main character would be named Hannah. It wasn’t until the book had been accepted for publication that my new editor emailed, “Does Hannah have a last name?” The thought had never occurred to me. So I called up my friend, Donna Hudgins, down in Virginia Beach. “Quick,” I said. “Hannah needs a last name.” After a few seconds, Donna said, “How about Ives?” So Hannah Ives was born. I didn’t find out until several years later that while talking to me, Donna had been looking at a calendar tacked up on the bulletin board by her telephone which featured illustrations by Currier and Ives. So, Hannah could just as easily have been Hannah Currier.
Come to think of it, if I were doing it all over again, I might not name her Ives, or any other name ending in “S.” That terminal “s” causes problems when you need to indicate possessive – is it Hannah Ives’s Chrysler LeBaron or Hannah Ives’ LeBaron. Only the venerable Chicago Manual of Style knows for sure.
All the usual suspects in my Hannah Ives mysteries were named back in 1999 when I mapped out the series, but I never envisioned that there’d be thirteen (or more!) books to follow, so I’ve a continuing need for supporting characters. To name them, I’ve mined our Gingerville community’s telephone directory, my Taipei American School yearbook, my daughter’s law school graduation program and the one from my grandson’s high school which, because it is in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. offered a number of wonderful-sounding foreign names, perfect for passengers on my fictional cruise line in Dark Passage.
Another source of character names has been charity auctions. High bidders in recent silent auctions for Malice Domestic, the Annapolis Opera Company, the Harrisville School and the Lovell (Maine) United Church of Christ have ended up in my novels as jogging partners, curious cruise ship passengers, the director of a continuing care retirement community, and the head nurse in the “memory unit” there. When people hear about this, they often volunteer people who have crossed them in life as victims. “Could you bump off my mother-in-law/ex-husband/boss? Hmmm. Perhaps I should charge for this service. A simple heart attack? Modestly priced. A gunshot to the head? More expensive. Something slow and lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
Getting back to the article that started me thinking about character names, I just checked my email’s spam filter. Khan Habib and Ian Ridd might make good lawyers in my next novel. Rachel Beck and Celine Bernoit – do they sound like real estate agents to you? If I were writing a thriller, I might go for “Agent Robinson Coolwell” who, it seems from the subject line of his email, is sending me “sincere apologies from Her Majesty’s High Commission.” I did not click to see what Her Majesty was apologizing for.
So, Femmes, is a character’s name important to you, and where do you get them?