by Sean Chercover
The Mouse is two years old. Well, two and change. 27 months, if we must be specific. Most of the time, he calls me Da-da, or Dad. Da-da was fun, but I welcome the transition to Dad.
The surprising change is that, with increasing regularity, The Mouse is now also calling me Sean.
A couple of people have suggested that I correct him. But he is correct. My name is Sean, and he hears other people call me Sean, so why the hell shouldn’t he call me Sean?
I admit I am still slightly startled each time he does it. It’s just a little odd to hear my 2-year-old son calling me by my Christian name.
“Christian name.” You don’t hear that very often, these days.
Anyway, I find it interesting that other grown-ups are uneasy about it. Also interesting to note my own emotional reaction to the different names. When the Mouse calls me Sean, it feels different than when he calls me Dad, which in turn feels different than Da-da.
Do you think about this when naming your characters? Not only how the name feels and what it conveys, but also what nicknames the characters might call each other, and what those nicknames convey about the relationships between the characters.
Like everybody, I keep a few “Baby Name” books near my desk. But sometimes reading a list of names with notations of the “Welsh/Irish/Hebrew/Latvian” origins is not enough.
Occasionally I use names of real people. It’s fun to give a shout-out to people I know and love. Like many writers, I’ve donated character naming rights to be auctioned to raise money for a good cause, and I have a contest on my website, one of the prizes being a character named after the winner.
Then there are the names of characters from other books. Gravedigger Peace from Big City Bad Blood and Trigger City is a tip-of-the-hat to Chester Himes, one of my all-time favorite crime writers. His Grave Digger Jones was a corrupt and brutally violent Harlem cop. The resemblance between Gravedigger Peace and Grave Digger Jones doesn’t go much beyond the fact that they both have a pretty deep wellspring of rage, and they’ve both killed more than a few people, but I love using the name as a nod in his direction . . . and it fits my character who is, in fact, a grave digger.
Ray Dudgeon, my series protagonist, went through many names along the way. His penultimate name was Ray Dunbar. Dunbar Road is the street I grew up on. I didn’t like the name Dunbar, but I liked Ray, and I liked the way it sounded with a surname that started with D. I also like names that have independent meaning as words. Spade, Archer, Hammer, Reacher, Strange, Rain . . . all great names that tell us something about the character. So I started flipping through the letter D, in Webster’s dictionary.
Dudgeon fit my protagonist perfectly, both for its modern meaning and for the archaic meaning, most famously used by William Shakespeare in Macbeth. A few folks have commented that Ray’s name is a bit too clever, but the vast majority of people dig it. And I’ve had email correspondence with a number of real-life Dudgeons as a result, including a real Ray Dudgeon.
A totally unexpected benefit of using an unusual name.
I’d love to hear some of your favorite character names, and your method of naming the characters you create. So have at it.
BONUS: A signed, first-edition of Trigger City goes to the first person who tells us the archaic definition for Dudgeon (as mentioned in the Macbeth reference above).
ALSO: Libby mentioned this in the previous post, but in case you missed it. . . The amazing folks at Bleak House Books are giving away FREE books this holiday season. For real. You only pay for shipping. Check it out.
AND: For those of you who are buying gifts this holiday season, please consider buying and giving books.