How to make a great character name by stealing from history

May 25, 2013 • Latest, treehouse riots • Views: 1025

It’s Friday night and I really want to talk about the movie I saw tonight but this isn’t a movie blog and I was also sworn to keep my big fat trap shut until one of my friends sees the movie first. Whatever feelings I do have about the movie are being channeled into this here post you’re reading right now.

Do you ever have that thing that you sort of just half-ass when you first do it, promising yourself or whomever that you’ll fix it up later? For as long as I can remember when I write a story I substitute two default names for the eventual good names that I will come up with later. Those names are Sandra and Marcus. I don’t particularly like either of those names. Sandra Bullock kind of has a nice ring to it but if I ever met her and had to say, “Hey Sandra,” I might smirk and blush and feel sort of stupid. Marcus isn’t so bad and I meet a million and one Marcus’s a day, but it’s just so…I don’t know…harsh sounding. Angry. Russian almost. The last syllable even tells you what the name is about, “cuss.” My sister in law’s mom is named Sandra but she pronounces the first syllable like “mom”. It sounds a bit hoity toity but I give her a pass.

Anyway, Marcus and Sandra. My default names. I was running through the names of the characters from the book I’m editing and it finally somehow hit me that every character has just an atrocious name. I mean bad. Awkwardly bad. Chester McCarthy. Jake Ventnor. Jake Hoveland. Marcus Ventnor. Lucille isn’t a bad name but I never gave her a last name. Lamar isn’t a bad name but I never gave him a last name either. You know what I did? I half-assed the names and their lineage. I did a shitty job, saying I’d do a better job later. Well, the later never came and I stuck myself with a book full of characters who I want to stab in the throat merely because their names piss me off.

There’s a remedy.

Have you ever looked at really old baseball cards? You probably haven’t because many of them are worth a ton of money and if you had them you would have sold them already to pay off your college loans. You don’t need the cards, you can simply look up old players.  So last night instead of sitting down and editing I instead went through The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract searching for the best of the best. It’s a great book and might make you fall in love with baseball history, if not actually the game itself.

Just now I opened to a random page (pg. 126 in the book) to see what I might find:

– Dolf Luque

– Dazzy Vance

– Lefty Grove

– Frankie Frisch

– Johnny Rawlings

– Earl Combs

– Maurice Archdeacon

– George Pipgras

– Kenesaw Mountain Landis

I wish I could say I plucked the names from here, but I stole them from the record books.

I wish I could say I plucked the names from here, but I stole them from the record books.

Archdeacon are you kidding me?! That is one page taken from the 1920’s decade. Also on that page is Everett Scott whose name I straight up stole. I’m sorry Jesse whateveryourlastnameis your new name is Everett Scott. I didn’t have the brass to name him Everett Archdeacon but I came close.

I made a spreadsheet dividing up the names (sadly there are not many female ball players so I need a different way to get gather the greatest female names) and was able to make the beginnings of several family trees, stealing surnames and first names from ballplayers. So we have the Ashburns, the Scotts, the Newcombs, the Weavers, and the Gibsons. (If you’re familiar with baseball history at all some of those names might pop out to you. If so, keep your mouth shut!) I’ve got names like Owen Ashburn and Tris Hoveland and Buck Newcomb and Abigail Newcomb-Gibson-Scott-Ashburn (it’s complicated) and few others for side characters who appear for brief moments.

I made family tree of my own family for a school project back in middle school. I used family photos and made a chart. My dad’s side I took back to the turn of the century when his grandparents came over from Norway. My mom’s side I took back further to Scotland where some connection with the Kennedy’s popped up. I’ve started doing the same with my pretend families. It’s absolutely fun. Gives me the same pleasure as making up a pretend map. I’m not sure why I didn’t do it sooner. Oh wait, I do know why. Because I named a main character Chester McCarthy. Good god, man, who wants to hear about him?

© 2013 Christopher Dart

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