NAMING CHARACTERS

As you are writing a short or long piece of fiction, or perhaps if you’re outlining before beginning a portion of it, is necessary to name the characters. Several names were invented just for the book, Cold Morning Shadow.

In one family which figures prominently in the story, the mother figure is Madeleine (pronounced Mad-LEEN), a common enough name. Her daughters are Rayleine and Cyleine.

Madeleine’s car, a 1954 Buick with a face that resembles a baleen whale, answers to the name, Bayleine.

The members of this family all belong to the Oglala Lakota tribe of the Sioux nation. They bear “middle” names and related endearments unique to the language of their ancestors — another resource for the imaginative parent-to-be.

In another family in the novel, a mother of Swiss descent, Xaverine, (also a common enough name in parts of Europe), has three daughters, Freda (sounds the same as if you add “a” to the end of “afraid”), Katje (KAT-ye), and Sonie (like Sony, the big name in electronics). These too are common enough given names in certain parts of Europe.

One man, in a supporting role, is Brigg Quarry, whose full given name, we later learn, is Brigglee. I never encountered the name anywhere before but invented it for the novel. When I needed to name a pair of soldiers in the jungles of southeast Asia, I fractured two place names found on a Maine map, and so those characters are Andros Coggin and Kenny Bunker. A girl with special needs appears in a couple of chapters. Her name is Penny Dently. Before her arrival in the story, her paternal grandmother, Evie Dently, served as her aide in school.

As other supporting characters appeared I snatched the first name, real or invented, that came to mind. I had a roommate in college, Paul Palazzolo. I borrowed his surname for a Marine Corps lieutenant — not that Paul had ever served in the Marines nor even that he and I were great friends, but his name popped into my head just as the character popped into the novel.

I took more care in naming another character, Brent Shambley. When I was in high school in Lima, Ohio, and then a freshman in college, my friend, Dwight Shambley, had a more profound influence on me than he probably ever suspected. He and I were fellow string bass players at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music before Dwight embarked on a brilliant career as a music educator and as a string bass player with various orchestras, settling for the greater part of his career (48 years) with the Dallas Symphony. In the novel, Brent Shambley, from Cincinnati, is a young soldier in Vietnam who, before his stint in the Army, had been a bass player intent on a career in music when his military duty was fulfilled. As I conceived the character in the novel he is, essentially, Dwight. And Brent in the novel survives to indeed make a career in music. My old friend Dwight died shortly before the novel was published, though, and never knew that I had “honored” him by borrowing his name.

I invented other names as needs arose: Alice Prings hints at a place name in Australia. Ben Autlaigne bears a French-sounding surname (pronounced Ott-lane) that is a complete and spontaneous fabrication. At one point I inserted a character initially identified as Tanner Engine. Since he is named in conversation at first, that’s the way those who heard it conceived the spelling. Only later is it explained that his given name and surname are indeed close to Tanner Engine, but not quite.

In Vietnam we encounter Hien Van Tu, who makes an appearance later on, in the United States. In China we meet Max van der Helm, perhaps a common name in some parts of the world where the Dutch have had influence, including (in Max’s case) the nation of South Africa. But Max is in China, along with Comrade (Tongzhi) Shihong, Mister Duàn, Jiang YeBai, Codrin Vasilescu, and Ladinas Stoyan, the latter two attached to the embassy of România in China.

Then there are these invented names for characters who play small roles: Toleda Aucoin, Sergeant Andrew Kedrow, Sergeant Lane Hoyyer, and a smattering of other people native to Vietnam, China, and România.

Some people of historical significance are interwoven throughout the book, from the Oglala Chief Tasunka Kokipapi to President Richard Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger. As of the summer of 2021, Henry Kissinger and his wife, Nancy, are still living on their own in Kent, Connecticut and New York City.

For more on the characters, see Biographical Notes.

=David A. Woodbury=

See the author’s other titles at DamnYankee.com.