A Hero by Any Other Name

(Also posted at PenWarriors.com)

If fictional characters had to pay real dollars for therapy, a few of mine would be bankrupt and suffering from multiple identity disorder.

Even I’m confused about the identity of the hero of my seventh published book. Andrew, Takeover Man‘s hero, stormed into town to reorganize his aging father’s life and ran into Maggie, a female harbormaster with an attitude. Maggie knew who she was from the instant she flashed onto my computer screen, but Andrew wasn’t so lucky. If I’d been writing this book in the days when authors slaved over typewriters and had to retype the manuscript with each draft, Andrew would have managed to hang onto his name—too much work to change it. But when I read through my final draft, I decided that the name Andrew just didn’t evoke the image of a takeover man. So my last act as his creator was a search-and-replace, wiping Andrew out of existence and substituting Michael.

Looking back now, I’m not sure Michael sounds any more take-charge than Andrew. It seemed important to me at the time and, who knows, maybe I was right … or wrong.

One way or another I’ve spent a lot of time naming my characters.

Like many writers I’ve collected a host of baby name books over the years. After years of trying to find the perfect name book, in the late 1990s my husband and I developed a computer names database, and a few years later, my son Cameron enhanced and expanded it into MuseNames. I keep adding new names as I find them and the MuseNames database has now grown to 60,000 names. I know it’s crazy to think I need 60,000 names, but I love exploring the names and their meanings as I create my characters. With all those names at my disposal, I could write forever and never repeat a hero or heroine’s name.

Well, not exactly.

When my twenty-third book was accepted for publication, the editor suggested I change the name of Strangers by Day’s hero from Allan to something more masculine. Perhaps Max, he suggested.

I’ve always been fond of short, simple masculine names. If I couldn’t have Allan, there was no reason Faith couldn’t fall in love with a man named Max—it was exactly the sort of name I might give one of my heroes. I did another search-and-replace and Allan became Max.

Oops! Max was the hero of my very first book, Pacific Disturbance.

Oh, well. The two men will probably never meet. Max #1 (Pacific Disturbance) is a West Coast software developer; Max #2 (Strangers by Day) is a cattle rancher in the interior of British Columbia. I should be safe, unless they both turn up in Vegas on the same weekend and their wives get to comparing heroes.

As for that MuseNames database, check it out! Over the weekend, my son Cameron and I finished putting the database and its search tool up on my website. Feel free to browse those 60,000 names with their origins and meanings here at http://vanessagrant.com/character-names-for-writers/.

Happy writing

Vanessa

Check out my eBoook On Johnny’s Terms – the author’s cut – another name change story.