Friday, July 30, 2010

What’s in a name?

Please welcome today's guest, Avery Aames, author of newly released The Long Quiche Goodbye.

Avery Aames is the author of A Cheese Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. She likes to read, cook, garden, and do amateur photography. You can visit Avery at She also blogs at Mystery Lovers Kitchen, a blog for foodies who love mysteries, as well as at Killer Characters, a blog overtaken by cozy authors’ characters,

Names. Indiana Jones…James Bond…Hercule Poirot…Nancy Drew. Names are very important to distinguish the character that leaps off the page. John Smith would never be Indiana Jones. Jim would never be James. Hercule…I can’t even imagine another name for Hercule, can you?

Names are very important to me as a writer. If I name a character Nikki, she takes on a personality of her own. Strong, kick-ass, alert. If I name her Charlotte, she’s gentler, more refined, a bit of an artist. Both are passionate but in entirely different ways. Now, I’m not saying that a Nikki couldn’t be an artist and a Charlotte couldn’t be kick-ass, but for me, this is who they are…who they have become. Have you met people who match their names? When I think of the name Janet, I think direct, funny. Ginger is a long, lanky exotic dancer or actress with red hair. {Yes, I’m probably influenced by Gilligan’s Island.} Kat is a whole lot different than Katherine or Kitty or Kate.

When I began writing A Cheese Shop Mystery series, I started with a few characters. That list quickly grew to an alphabet of characters. In cozies, writers populate entire towns. At some point, I realized that I had an Amy and an Amelia, and it dawned on me that the two couldn’t dwell in the same story. They just couldn’t. They started with A and they sounded the same. Multiple times, I found myself typing mistakes--entering Amelia when I meant Amy and vice versa. [Side note: Have you ever read a book where there’s an Ann, Amy, Analise, and Annabelle…or some such combination, all with that sort An or Am combination and after a while, you’re wondering who’s walking onto the page?] In The Long Quiche Goodbye, Amy was an eight-year-old twin, and Amelia was a twenty-two-year-old Amish woman. Amy was leaping off the page with personality; Amelia wasn’t. So I kept Amy, and I searched the Internet for the most popular Amish names. I landed on Rebecca. [I didn’t have an R-named character other than Rags, the Ragdoll cat. I didn’t think the two would be confused.]

Suddenly Rebecca took shape. She was plucky, coltish, curious. Amelia wasn’t any of those things. She was shy and tentative and, well, just not very memorable. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all Amelia(s) are shy and tentative and unmemorable. Look at Amelia Earhart. Talk about personality. But in my world, Amelia didn’t have pluck. Rebecca did!

Another problem with the names I had chosen cropped up when I realized that I had two characters whose names sort of rhymed. Kristine and Kathleen. And they not only rhymed, they started with the same letter K, they were both thin, they were the same age, and they were forthright. Uh-oh. How many times do you think I got their names wrong? If I couldn’t keep them straight, how could I expect my readers to? So I changed the names. [Let’s hear it for the global “replace” tool on my computer.] Kristine remained Kristine. It fit her. She was regal and wanted to run the town. Kathleen became Vivian, a much nicer name for an antique dealer. The name Vivian had a softer tone, an artier feel. She sailed into The Cheese Shop with the grace of a clipper ship. Kristine marched onto the scene.

Don’t get me wrong. I know people are not named according to their personalities or their looks, but when I write, I try to fit the name to the person.

On a personal note…true story: My real name isn’t Avery. {How many of you knew that?} It’s Daryl. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve heard people say: “Where’s your other brother Daryl?” or “Funny, you don’t look like a boy.” The name Daryl sticks with people. They expect me to be direct and strong, though not masculine, and many expect me to be good at football. [I can’t even begin to tell you how many Darrells there are who play football, both white and black. Most are wide receivers or tackles. If I’d played, I would have been a safety.] Avery, on the other hand, is the kind of gal who would love to take things slower, slip into your kitchen, pour a cup of coffee (or wine), and talk about cheese.

If you’re a writer, think about how you choose your characters’ names. Are there any that aren’t quite fitting the name and screaming out for a new one?

For readers, think about your friends. Would you have named them differently? How about your family? Do any have nicknames that have stuck because that’s just who they are? Peanut, Pooh, Tweedle Dee, Rocko?

Names. I love them! And I’m thrilled to have a couple of my own.

Best to all,
Say Cheese!

The first book in Avery Aames' Cheese Shop series, The Long Quiche Goodbye, came out on July 6. You can purchase the book at Avery’s bookseller page:


Aimee said...

Fantastic essay/blog post, Daryl. It completely escaped my attention until I read this piece that my daughter and I are both named in your book. True, my name is spelled differently and she commonly goes by her nickname of Becca, but I just totally missed it when I was reading the book. I guess that just goes to show how engrossing I found the story.

Dru said...

Great blog post.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Welcome to the Pens Avery/Daryl! And many, many congratulations on your new book, and your future success. Thanks for stopping by, and what a great post! Say cheese, indeed.

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Thanks to all. Aimee, isn't it interesting when something is changed by the spelling that it does, indeed, "sound" different. I guess our minds process the words visually while being spoken. Interesting topic of study, I'd bet.

Thanks, Juliet (Julie) for your good wishes.


Unknown said...

Love the title Long Quiche Goodbye!!!!!

I have a short story where a character is deliberately named ironically, her name is Ashley, but she's the opposite of a willowy blonde. The story brings the irony into the text, since the story is about images and perceptions. But that's the only time I've employed naming irony. Because the story suggested it.

I try to compensate for my tin ear for names and titles with extra thinking. Not sure it helps :)

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Extra thinking always helps!

~Avery :)

Cleo Coyle said...

Love your protag AND her name -- Charlotte is just perfect. And LOL on the Daryl vs. Avery stories. Ha! :)

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Thanks, Cleo.

Hey, all at Pensfatales, thank you so much for the opportunity to blog today. I truly enjoyed your readers. May you all find abundant and delightful success!


Kaye George said...

I once had two characters named Ann and Dan. My readers made me realize that one had to go. But when Dan became Darrell, he was quite a different person! Luckily, I liked Darrell. I wonder if someone influenced that name choice? Hmmm....

Vickie said...

Not a writer, except on my blog and family letters, but I'll pipe in. I think names can shape a person's life or personality. At least aid in the path.
We put a lot of thought into our daughter's name, I call her Lady K on my blog and posts. We kind of figured we'd have one shot at child having, so we went full throttle on hers. My mom, DH's mom, and my maternal grandmother got in there. It's a ton of name-age, but it works. Her nickname is Biscuit or Kitten. She is starting to ask for us to call her Kath. It is all dependent on her mood if she is called full name or nickname. Is she in trouble or being silly.

Vickie said...

OH! And a lot of the reason I enjoy cozies/amateur sleuth books so much are the names, ie title, on the cover.

Rachael Herron said...

I knew (and I'm not making this up) a Daryl who married a Darrell. And they named their three kids Darril, Darryl, and Deril. (Two girls and a boy.) I think it's a FABulous name, but for 5 people, that's a lot of confusion when someone gets a phone call at home.

Kaye George said...

Rachael, I wonder if the Bob Newhart writer knew them. There was a character who always said, "Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl. And this is my other brother Darryl." I thought it was hilarious every time. Shallow, I know. :)

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