When you write fiction, you generally have to come up with names for your characters. Even in short fiction, you may find that referring to your players just as “He,” “She,” “That Dude,” or “Designated Pronoun” can grow tiresome over the course of your narrative. The expectation of names isn’t absolute, and I think I’ve done some effective short pieces where individuals are not given specific handles. More often that not, though, your baby needs a name.
Where do our fictional names come from? Well, that can be answered the same way we reply when someone asks us where we get our ideas: I dunno. The creative process is enigmatic, elusive, mysterious, and stubborn, and it tends to drool a lot. And it never picks up the damned bill at diners. It’s a right bastard, that creative process. Rather than risk our sanity trying to make sense of That Dude behind the curtain, maybe it’s best to just look at the results.
My first character creations were superheroes, scrawled on construction paper, notebook pages, and loose-leaf sheets when I was in elementary school. Skipping past some of the maybe less-than-entirely-original names I gave to a few of my characters–Batman, Kid Colt, The Avengers–I recall coming up with various good guys and bad guys named Rain-Hat Sam, Jem, The Power, The Bolshevik Bat, Gloppy, The Scarlet Redman, and Jack Mystery. (I re-visited Jack Mystery as an adult, and he coulda been a contender: The Jack Mystery Story.)
I continued to create and name more superheroes as the years passed, from Captain Infinity, The Trident, and Lawman through the more recent Eternity Man (with his co-star Jenny Woo). But let’s move past superheroes; most writers probably aren’t going to be using superheroes in their stories anyway. What are some of the more…civilian names I’ve concocted?
In sixth or seventh grade, I created a baseball player named Skip Keller. Ol’ Skip would have been the star of a series of sports comics, absolutely none of which I ever got around to writing. Slacker, thy name is CC. In 2019, I resurrected the Skip Keller name for an entirely different character, a former pop star turned songwriter and producer, in a short story called “Hitcore.” That story didn’t sell, but I like it a lot, so its day ain’t done yet. For “Hitcore,” I also named two other new characters: Mephisto Records receptionist Amber (no last name designated), and successful rock auteur Willington Blue. They’re all going back to the drawing board for some tweaking (maybe even in pursuit of a novel-length story), but the names will remain.
The Beat And The Sting was me pulling at the threads of an idea for a Green Hornet ’66 story. To The Green Hornet’s familiar supporting cast of Kato, Lenore “Casey” Case, and District Attorney Frank Scanlon, I added the rock group Ben Arnold & the Turncoats (with the lead singer’s real name Arnie Bennett, plus guitarist Roger Hartwell, bassist James Thomas, keyboardist Steve Davis, and drummer Tommy Hammond) and Century City crime boss Samuel “Sammy” Vincenzo. This story has potential, but no plausible path to publication at this time.
Terry Legend and Malice were names I gave to detective creations in the ’70s. Terry Legend was a parody character I used once in my high school literary magazine, and Malice (first name undecided) would have been the deadly-serious lead in an unwritten story called “The Children Of Malice.” I may yet use both names, but if Terry Legend does return, he won’t be a parody character anymore (his comic-booky name notwithstanding).
One of my favorite blog pieces here is Jukebox Express, a wholly fabricated account of a make-believe 1950s rock ‘n’ roll B-movie made by various fictional people we’ve seen in film, TV, comic books, etc. The players, from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Sophie Lennon and Gilligan’s Island‘s Ginger Grant through That Thing You Do!‘s Troy Chesterfield and My Favorite Year‘s Stan “King” Kaiser, all came with their names pre-attached. But I came up with the names of their characters: Rose “Mama” Mammamia, Kirby Lee, Archibald Toby, and Rocco “Death” Manzetti, respectively. My favorite among the names I slapped together here is Rocco’s moll Cupcake O’Hara, played by The Rocketeer‘s Jenny Blake. Yeah, I put a lot of work into this trifle.
The short stories I completed in 2019 contained but a few named characters. Of the unsold batch (in addition to “Hitcore”): “Dreaming Deadly” starred Sam and Billy, and an unnamed girl; “Sword Of The Chosen One” starred Flora and Anna; “Montie Pylon Finds His Holy Grail” starred Montgomery Pylon and Louise; and “The Greatest Thud Never Heard” included no named characters at all. The first story I sold last year, “Guitars Vs. Rayguns,” included no named characters. “The Picture Of Amontillado” starred Dorian Gray and Wild Edgar Poe, and I don’t think I’d get away with a claim of creating either of those names.
That leaves my loosely-connected Copperhead stories, two of which sold, one of which is pending, and a fourth is in its early stages of this-ain’t-ready-yet! Each of these feature a lead character–The Copperhead Kid, The Copperhead, Codename: Copperhead, and Copper–and not many other names: a Sheriff, a Deputy, Ma and Pa, an unnamed sister, Cody, a Director, a Director’s Wife, a family in peril, various goons and no-goodniks, and some assorted pronouns. Those were all the names needed to tell the story. For now.
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