• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Cecilia, You’re Breaking My Heart


138_jpgPip, Holden Caulfield, Lily Bart, Humbert, Ethan Frome, Miss Havisham, Portnoy. How do you name your characters? Phone book, high school year book, book of names? Or do they come to you in a dream, visions of Johanna. Do you start with a name and build from there, or does it emerge later, organically. Do you give your character a name the way you do with an infant and hope it fits. Can a name mean too little or too much? Have too much import or not enough. I once started a novel called the The Resignation of Rochelle Epstein.

What’s your favorite character name?

11 Responses

  1. Seriously?? I once worked with a woman named Rochelle Epstein. And she did indeed resign before I left the company.

    Can you also tell me what I had for dinner tonight?

  2. “How do you name your characters?”

    It depends. Names can be definitive of character. It helps to keep that in mind. Sometimes that bears on what I name a character.

    If I’m setting a story in a particular time and place, I’ll research what were the more popular names of that time and place, if there are no other character-specific reasons for a name.

    Sometimes I just grab whatever’s handy. No fooling. If it doesn’t much matter what the character’s name is, he or she is likely to be named after whatever I might see in front of me (I don’t think I have any characters named Dell, but I may).

    I may have one story where the guy is named Nick. That’s a Hemingway homage. No need to do that more than once.

    Sometimes my characters don’t need names, so they don’t get ’em.

    “What’s your favorite character name?”

    Maybe Major Major Major Major. That’s likely because I was raised an army-brat and had an ear for the absurdity of the military. My father actually served in an outfit that had a Major Major.

  3. I love choosing names for my characters. It’s not scientific, but it works for me in that I keep trying different variations until I land on one and I just know it’s “the one.” That’s not just for the MC but for all of the characters. I start with the MC first though. Then work on the rest. Sometimes the others come before the MC – it just happens that way.

    I like to think by naming a character – and I take my time doing it – makes a reader “see” the character more vividly.

    Example: Junior Odom, he’s a minor character in my latest WIP. Does his name give you an image of what kind of kid he might be? *I hope so, that’s my intention.

  4. John Kennedy O’Toole is right up there, but I was struck by Yossarian from Catch-22 and Gnossos Pappadoupalis (sp. I’m sure) from Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.
    Sometimes I work too hard on my character’s names and they’re too obvious (Ryder, Key Genesee), and sometimes I get too cute (Sonny Fortune). I’m certainly not above risking it all for a cheap laugh (Antoine “TonyBoner” Dibona) and sometimes, well, I think back on people I’ve known. Lenore Pondsrock was one of the first girls I ever had a crush on. Part of it was related to saying her name, but mostly it was because she was fun to be with.

  5. Ellen Foster.
    Because I didn’t see the twist that her name provided at the end of the story. Made me a bit verklempt.

  6. Riff Rafferty, Joe Garbanzo, Noodles Jefferson, Scrap Metal Earl, Rik, JC, the editor. The sound of the name, the image summoned, the role. Noodles Jefferson comes from an item on the menu at Guantanamo; Earl and Rik are friends of mine. Riff, an edgy guitarist, is inspired by my brother, Joe by my old friend and business partner, who wasn’t really a gangster, but would allow you to think that if it suited his purpose. He did favors for many people, and rarely asked anything in return. There’s Joe the bartender and Allen, who owned a waterfront saloon, both real, and Chimenea the barmaid, inspired by a number of women in my life who are warm, but with a fiery side. Julio, from the Dominican Republic, is a real friend, but Fupopo, known as “Che” to his friends, is an amalgam of several Spanish-speaking friends. Yuri, the Russian pilot who first rescued B. Frank from Egypt and now resides in Cuba, is inspired by a number of pilots I’ve known. I wondered what those guys would be like today, and Yuri was the result.

  7. I forgot. On the even sillier side, there is Turk Wasabi, the Swede.

  8. My favorite character, from one of my short stories,
    Loretty Palm. She was a freaking birch. She’s dead now. Buried in a file box in the back of my closet, May she rest in obscure peace.

  9. Ella Minnow Pea. (aka L-M-N-O-P, from the novel Ella Minnow Pea.) Also, I much like the character name Nathan Zuckerman, but that’s because I’ve read those Roth novels so many times.

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