By Maggie King
What’s in a name? With due respect to Mr. Shakespeare, who immortalized the catchphrase in Romeo and Juliet, names matter. Ask any parent, pet owner … or writer.
People ask me how I come up with my characters’ names. I might hear a first name and read a last name and put them together. The names need to sound right and need to suit the character. In Murder at the Book Group, #1 in my Hazel Rose Book Group Mysteries, I chose the name Hazel Rose for my main character because it appealed to me.
But some names have more interesting backstories. The silver screen contributed a name for a character who appears throughout the series. One day I was watching The Philadelphia Story (1940) and saw the name Wade Rubottom in the credits. He was an associate art director for many films in the thirties and forties. I thought, “What a great name for a character” and I christened one of the book group members Sarah Rubottom.
Another recurring character is Kat Berenger. Her full name is Katrina Alexandra Berenger. Katrina Alexandra was the name of an unconventional teacher I had in high school. Kat is a logical diminutive of Katrina and also reflects the character’s love of leopards. I like the actor Tom Berenger—so that’s how I cobbled together the name Kat Berenger.
Unfortunately, Carlene Arness doesn’t get to be a recurring character, as she dies at a meeting of her book group—hence the title Murder at the Book Group. Her name was originally Deanna Arness and at some point I changed it to Sharon Arness. Then I went to work for a woman named Sharon and figured it was a bad idea for my victim and my boss to share a name, so Sharon became Carlene. As for Arness, likely I was thinking of Gunsmoke. James Arness starred in the popular western that my father watched religiously on Saturday nights from 1955-1975.
Carlene Arness was prone to tweaking her name as often as she changed her makeup. Carla, Carlotta, Carolina, were a few of her variations. She also had an assortment of last names. Her name hopping made investigating her murder challenging for Hazel Rose.
In Murder at the Moonshine Inn, Hazel Rose goes undercover to a redneck bar to investigate a murder. She consults an online database devoted to redneck baby names (yes, that’s a thing!) and picks an alias of Shelby Austin for herself and Ricky Austin for her husband, Vince. Characters she encounters in the bar are named Susie McCool, Maylene, and Duane.
For my recent release, Laughing Can Kill You, I don’t have as many interesting side stories about the names. Sarah Rubottom and Kat Berenger are recurring characters, so I’ve explained their name origins. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe inspired the name Claudia Marlowe, a new character. I appropriated last names of people I’ve worked with over the years and gave them to Matt and Susan Rowan, Lorraine Popp, and Sherry Guanzon,
After watching (and loving) the Danish drama Borgen, I plan to name a character Hesselboe. A suitable first name will come to me.
A few years back, I wrote a post with tips about naming characters. You can read it on the Sister in Crime Central Virginia’s Lethal Ladies Write blog: https://www.sistersincrimecentralvirginia.com/single-post/2016/05/15/name-that-character.
Readers, what are your favorite character names? Let me know for a chance to win an e-book of Laughing Can Kill You.
Synopsis of the book:
He who laughs last, laughs longest.
Unless he’s dead.
When romance author Hazel Rose is dropped by her publisher, she sees herself heading down a path strewn with has-been authors. While disappointed, Hazel won’t give up without a fight—she signs up for a mystery-writing class, thinking that crime fiction will jumpstart her career.
But what’s a mystery-writing class without a mystery? So when Randy Zimmerman, an obnoxious classmate given to laughing at others’ expense, is murdered, Hazel tackles the case. Solving a real-life murder will surely lend authenticity to her creative writing.
She recruits her book group pals to help with the investigation. Trouble is, there are more suspects than they bargained for—even Hazel herself, who endured Randy’s thumbs-way-down review of her writing, had a motive.
A second body drives the stakes higher, and Hazel doubles her efforts to find who’s behind the murders, unearthing secrets that a killer would go to any lengths to keep hidden.
Will Hazel succeed? Or will this be “The End” for her?
Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries. Her short stories appear in various anthologies, including the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, Murder by the Glass, and Death by Cupcake.
She is a member of James River Writers, International Thriller Writers, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a founding member of Sisters in Crime Central Virginia, where she manages the chapter’s Instagram account.
Maggie graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in Business Administration, and has worked as a software developer and a retail sales manager. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and two indulged cats. When Maggie isn’t writing she enjoys reading, walking, cooking, traveling, movies, British TV shows, and the theatre.
Universal Book Link (ebook): https://books2read.com/u/3n2ZAK
Amazon print: https://www.amazon.com/Laughing-Can-Kill-You-Mystery/dp/B09MYQ549Z
Barnes & Noble (print): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/laughing-can-kill-you-maggie-king/1140566735?ean=9798985231816
6 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”
Thank you for posting today. Some great points about What’s in a name.
Debra, thanks for hosting me today. It was a fun post to write.
I like it when the name has something to do with the character’s occupation or personality. I’m having fun with them in my latest work-in-progress. Officer Friendly is anything but, and my protagonist refers to him behind his back as Officer Unfriendly. Another character, who works in animal rescue and prefers feral cats to humans, is named Catherine Foster.
Sharon, your method reminds me that many names originated with people’s occupations (Cooper, Miller, etc.). You’re continuing the trend in your way. Best wishes for your story.
Thanks for this post, Maggie! I once collected a list of potential character names while my hubs and I drove back from a daytrip on some backroads in central Florida. As we passed by a sideroad, usually a meandering dirt road flanked by wired fences, I took note of the road’s name. Oftentimes it was a woman’s name or sounded like a family name. Some were more descriptive of the land. Then I did some mixing and matching to come up with some clever names I was sure would be original.
Liz, road signs are a wonderful way to come up with names. Plus they make a car trip more fun. Thanks for commenting.