What’s in a name?

I give a lot of thought to characters’ names. Pat Tierney came to me almost as soon as I started writing about her. I wanted a classic English-language woman’s name for my central character. A name readers had heard of and a name that could be abbreviated. Catherine, Anne, Elizabeth, Margaret and Patricia came to mind. I scrapped Catherine, a name that recurs in my family and my second name, because there’ve been quite a few Kates in crime fiction in recent years. I went with Patricia and shortened it to Pat. In Safe Harbor, Pat tells us that she began calling herself Pat instead of Patty when she was thirteen.

My women characters like to name themselves. Jude Seaton, another independent woman, began calling herself Jude instead of Judith or Judy when she was a child. In my new Pat Tierney mystery, we learn more about Jamie Collins, who appeared briefly in Safe Harbor. Jamie was christened Jennifer, and she was called Jenny or Jen when she was growing up. When she left home for university, she named herself Jamie. In my fictional world, women often tailor their names to suit the identities they’ve chosen for themselves.

I’m currently doing a rewrite of the new novel, and I’m finding too many names that begin with the same letter. Much too confusing. I’m committed to Nuala, so I’ve dropped the name Norma in favour of Veronica.

Surnames are important in a story set in Canada. Even outside of Quebec, our francophone province, we have a French presence. And Canada is a country that was built by immigrants. I need characters with names that reflect these varied backgrounds: Stéphane Pratt, Sergeant Marcel Lemay, Mara Nowak and Ted Stohl.

And there are the recent immigrants to Canada. Farah Alwan, the Tierneys’ housekeeper, is a refugee from Iraq. Ali Hassan is a Somali. Oskar Jacovic hails from Bosnia.

The most important name, of course, is the title of the novel, and I find titles devilishly difficult to come up with. I lucked out with Safe Harbor for my first Pat Tierney mystery, a title that works on a number of levels in the novel. But I’m not having an easy time coming up with a title for its sequel.

My problem is that I spent years writing for daily newspapers, and reporters do not write the headlines (titles) for their articles. That’s the job of the editors when they know exactly where the article will run on a page. The layout may call for a short headline, or a much longer one if type runs across the full width of a page.

With this background, I don’t think in terms of book titles. My working title for my current mystery is simply “my manuscript.”

I’m hoping that a brilliant title will pop into to my mind one day. One day very soon.


About rosemarymccracken

Rosemary McCracken is a Toronto-based journalist and fiction writer.
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2 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. I really enjoyed Safe Harbour, and I’m sure the sequel will be great no matter what the title. Paying attention to the first letter of a person’s name important and certainly makes the novels easier (less confusing) to read. It’s great that your spending the time on the details. I look forward to reading your next novel.

  2. Kristina, thank you for your comment! Would you consider leaving a review of Safe Harbor on Amazon.com?

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