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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Author's Day on Beat Street: Naming Them

Harry, yes, Katniss, no. Winnie, maybe, Becca, always. Bella Swan, God help us! Peeta, did someone's imagination just DIE? Lyra Belacqua, pretentious but it works, and I like the name Will. But how do we pick names for our characters? 

Ruby might be in everyone’s pocket, but I liked it too much not to use in The Beat on Ruby’s Street. Dark, shiny and deep-hearted all said Ruby to me. 

Years before I created her, I found a website related to Lord of the Rings. They had a feature that allowed you to type in your name and get a hobbit name in return.

When I entered my dad and husband’s names, they turned out to be the same. (Not sure what that says about me, but there you are). And though I can’t remember my whole name, my first name was (you guessed?) … Ruby.

Her last name was filched from a guy named Gary Tabita I never met. But he took care of a friend when she was a runaway in high school, and became sort of a legend in my mind. 

Ruby’s mother Nell was based on my son’s nickname for me. “I call you Little Nell because sometimes when I see you standing by the garage, you look like a tall child,” he said. He could never exactly say why, but I liked that he said it, so Nell was born. I also liked the whole "Little" thing because of the notion that Robin Hood’s Little John (another favorite character) was close to giant size. 

Ruby’s brother Ray is a saxophone player, and I think of him as cool and sunny, an odd combination that seems to work in that one, brief word. Ruby’s friend Sophie has a name I think of as old-fashioned, which seems perfect for her new-fashioning mom, Annie Tanya.

In her own way, I think (Mrs.) Tanya is the most rebellious person in the book, though no one notices. She is a female comic and a single (and successful) mom. This completely escapes Ruby, who of course can only see her beloved poets as the fountainhead of rebellion.

Gordy was based on a friend in junior high who was quiet in a very intense way and liked math. Meanwhile, Chaz is a name I always hated and thought Ruby should hate it too.

The Soroccos were taken from my favorite Italian ices store on Bleecker and names for the children's home girls arrived quickly; Judy was a friend in elementary school and Harriet seemed like it was right for a tortured soul who couldn't fit in anywhere. Manuela was named for my friend Mindy, aka Manuela when she travels/lives in Mexico.

Not scientific, exactly (or at all); still, this shoot-from-the-hip stuff has always worked for me when it comes to names. But then, writing plays/novels/songs comes from somewhere else too. Theodore (Dr. Seuss) Geisel said he went out into the desert and some sort of beastie thing gave him his ideas. Andre Gide said, "Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.”

I agree with both of them.

Illustration: Scott Rolfs
No Name Road: NatalieMaynor