The Naming Game

William Shakespeare famously asked…

“What is in a name…”

Quite a lot, actually, especially if you’re a writer. I had the most wonderful English professor, Father Doyle. Yes, it was a Jesuit College. He and my eleventh grade teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, instilled in me the love of language and a desire to write the stories that were always intruding on my thoughts.

Perhaps it’s, in part, due to the fact that Father Doyle chose my name for one of his dissections that I find the subject so fascinating. Did the author of the short story we were studying choose Rebecca for its significance in biblical history or for the place it holds in literature? If you name your character Rebecca, does the reader subconsciously associate her with the mother of Christianity or a woman in peril as in the classic Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier?

Rebecca by du Maurier

My friend Greg Herren reads Rebecca every year. Was she a woman in peril? He says the meaning changes with each reading. That’s the beauty of good literature. The meaning resides with the reader in the moment that they are reading the story.

But back to the naming of characters, the process of choosing. It’s an important aspect of telling a good story. It’s also tricky. The thing that set me thinking on this subject recently was a debate on the merits of a character in my latest manuscript, Trouble in Paradise, the sixth book in the Familiar Legacy Mystery Series. The male protagonist is named Trout. I thought this a very fine name, a nickname, of course, but very telling of his character, his identity. He is, after all, a charter boat captain living in Key West, Florida.

Trout's boat

His proper name, however, is Armentrout and that’s a whole other side of the spectrum. The name is Germanic, formed from the words “army” and “man.” Further explanation says it means bold, inquisitive, a planner, and interested. Since Trout’s former life, the one he escaped to Key West to forget, is that of a psychologist for troubled teens, it now seems a truer fit than ever. I’m amazed sometimes by how my subconscious works. Or I’m lucky.

Either way, I still like Trout just fine, thank you very much. It fits the character and the story. Trouble in Paradise is in the final editing stages and we’re sticking with Trout. It will be released May 7, 2018. Trouble, the Sherlock of black cat detectives, is the star of the show, naturally. But Trout just might surprise you with his sleuthing skills. You’ll have to read the story to see.

Trouble in Paradise cover


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