by Earl Staggs
I’m talking about naming the women in my writing life, of course. The women in my personal life, meaning my wife, two daughters, and two granddaughters, all have names chosen long ago. The problem I often have is choosing names for the females in my writing life, the ones in my stories. It could be because I’m only an average man with adequate intelligence at best and, therefore, limited in my understanding of women.
Names for my male characters, for some reason, are easier. As soon as I envision them and the stories they appear in, they let me know what their names should be. Only once have I made a major change in a male character’s name. The protagonist in my novel MEMORY OF A MURDER began life as Benjamin Masterson. I originally saw him as a worldly, well-educated, scholarly man. About halfway through the first draft, however, he let me known he was more of a down-to-earth, everyday kind of guy. I changed his name to Adam Kingston. He was happy with the change which, of course, made our working relationship a better one.
In the same novel, there is an important secondary character. She’s a homicide detective working the same case as Adam. Their initial meeting is not a friendly one. Adam is a former FBI agent, and she doesn’t care for FBI agents. Adam also has psychic gifts, and she thinks all psychics are quacks and con men. As you might guess, they wind up working together and, little by little, their relationship warms. Romance? Maybe.
To stand toe to toe with Adam, she had to be tough. For a friendship, possibly leading to a romantic thing, she also had to be feminine and attractive. After all, I couldn’t have my friend Adam getting interested in a frumpy little troll with bug eyes, a big nose, and the sex appeal of a fence post. My problem was coming up with a name for her that would imply tough cop, yet also have a ring of femininity, charm, and. . .you know.
I went through a book listing names in many ethnic groups and nationalities. Nothing clicked. I visited web sites offering the same. Still no click.
Then one day my wife’s car broke down. I didn’t know any mechanics, but a friend suggested hers. She handed me his business card. His name was Brendan McCord. As soon as I saw the name, I heard a giant CLICK! Bells and whistles sounded. A rainbow appeared on the horizon. Firecrackers boomed over my head. Pastel colored gazelles danced all around me. I had the name for my female character.
I dropped the “n” from the end of his first name and changed the “d” at the end of his last name to a “t” and her name became Brenda McCort. It was perfect. The first name, to me, had a feminine quality, and the last name struck me as just right for a cop who could be tough when necessary.
And that’s how I arrived at my foolproof system for naming the women I write about. All I have to do is wait for bells, whistles, rainbows, firecrackers and gazelles.
As for understanding women, I’m still working on that.
Earl Staggs. . .on a sweltering Sunday in Fort Worth