Choosing names


This is a small store, called a “charcuteria” which sells all kinds of dried and yummy meats.

One of the many fun things about writing a novel is the opportunity to choose every character’s name.

In my high school literature class, the wonderful Mrs. Quammen often harped on about the fact that authors actually put thought and care into selecting names for their characters. But, honestly, I never really believed it. To me it seemed like writing was just something that happened, and no matter how much she insisted that it was a deliberate process, I didn’t truly get it. Sure, it was obvious that I struggled to write, but that was because I was a kid, not because writing was a difficult or premeditated activity. And, of course “Ramona” was named appropriately, as were “Gandalf” and “Heidi.” Hello! It would not have worked to have Christy the Pest.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s my turn to name characters as they come to life in my novel. In the first few drafts, my characters had pretty ordinary and uninspiring names. And then, as I wrote more and more drafts and, okay, I’ll be lame, the plot thickened, I realized that besides metaphors, foreshadowing and plot twists, character’s names could crafted to help convey my message. Now, with the story complete, I hope that you too, dear reader, will appreciate the beauty of names that I chose for their significance, like Pilar, the business manager, who is the “pillar” of the trouble-maker’s group, holding them up, though often unnoticed. The other trouble-makers, brujas, as I call them, realize that she is their pillar, but the main character, Harvey, does not. And Pilar works very hard to keep him in the dark.

Pamela, the name of one of the young teachers who is a rookie at the school, was one I chose in irony—her name means “sweetness” and she is anything but that, much preferring to instigate rumors and partake in subterfuge. And Ernesto, one of the few students who makes it into my novel, even though it’s about a school, got his name from the fact that he is “serious” (even if he does cause some major damage by being too smart and hacking into the school’s network!)

Still, I admit that there were times I chose names simply because I liked them, like Carmen, whom I named after one of my closest friends in graduate school, but even then, I labored over which characters got which names, depending on their traits and background. It was especially fun choosing last names, and I was even able to put in more obscure, but personally significant names like “Oen” and “Kosciolak”.

However, hands down, the very best name I chose, was that of my main character, Harvey Jones. Sounds boring, right? Well, wait till you read what Harvey’s arch-enemies, the brujas, do with his name–they come up with a play on words which is just, well, in all humility, nothing short of brilliant. It was one of those moments in writing when I just pushed back from the computer and giggled for several minutes—and everyone who has reviewed my novel so far loves it.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like my series of novels, Bueno, Sinco and Brujas, which takes place in Santander, Spain.

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