Thursday, May 04, 2006


The other day, I made a flippant remark about names*. Okay, okay, I too have opinions about names that I like and don’t like, but the idea of not seeing a movie because of what the actress named their daughter is asinine.

I mean, if I were that petty, I’m sure there’s a long list of things I could criticize about a person that wouldn’t stopped me from seeing the movie long before child names came on the list.

But it is an interesting topic, because twice I’ve had writing rejected because of character names. Okay, personally, I think that’s asinine. Changing a name isn’t nearly as hard as changing a major plot twist if the story falls apart, IMHO…

Like it or not, people all react to names differently. Evilkev and I argue over names all the time. He’s firmly in the, “If you wouldn’t change your name to that and live with it yourself for a year then you shouldn’t stick your kid with it,” camp. He actually does think that extreme names for kids is a form of child abuse.

Now, I’m not going to get into attacking his viewpoint or defending it. He’s a right to his opinion, even if he’s wrong. Well, okay, he does have a point. It would be nice if parents thought about what it might be like to live with a certain name before they stick their kid with it.

I always disliked my name. It was boring, serious, uncommon. As a kid, just about anything else would have been preferable.

Well, except Julius Puckler.

Think I’m kidding? Nope. For 10 years of my life I went to school with Julius. Julius had an older brother named Rocky. Nobody bugged Rocky, but the kids used to call my classmate “Julius Fuckler”.

Let’s face it. Kids can be brutally cruel.

I had a friend in high school named Juanita Plummer. Her brother called her Neener. Others used to say, “Hey, we need a plumber!” Oh, and how everyone thinks they’re so original, like they’re the only ones who’ve ever thought of that joke.

A lot of my character names come from names I like, but that evilkev would never in a million years let me name a child if we had one. Tymen Farraday, for example. I worked with a child named Tymen. Dutch name, though the child I knew was half Dutch half Chinese. Well, that’s the Canadian way of things. I liked this child, a lot, and the name stuck.

Of course, evilkev hates it.

Even the name Jack Roberts came from the reject list. We’d been married a few years before evilkev shared the fact that Robert wasn’t his Dad’s first name, but his middle name. I’d always known Papa Smurf as Bob, and figured Kevin got his middle name from his Dad.

Turns out he got his middle name from Dad, alright, because it’s a family tradition to give the firstborn son the middle name Robert.

Excuse me while I go curse for a while.

Einarson is a hard enough surname to work with. But add Robert as a middle name, plus Kevin’s refusal to consider anything even remotely unconventional (even if it’s an ethnic name) and naming kids would be mission impossible.

Not like we have any or are going to, but at that point, that didn’t seem so certain.

So, I told my sister I’d always liked the name Jack. Sure, it was our grandfather’s nickname (his name was John). Sure, he was a son of a bitch and used to extinguish cigarettes on my sister’s arm. But it was also the nickname of CS Lewis, and I do like the name.

“Jack Robert. It isn’t horrid,” I said. (Bear in mind when your sister’s pregnant or friends are pregnant, women talk about baby names – it doesn’t seem so odd.)

“Jackrabbit.” Her automatic response. Always thinking of the potential jokes that can be made of a name.

And so, Jack Roberts was born. Fictionally, because my sister had just ruined another name for me.

Biggest problem for me is, so many names have been tainted by association. Just by nature of working with children and going with them into schools and daycares and preschools, I’ve been exposed to hundreds of kids.

And meeting people with certain names affects your perception.

It’s a personal pet peeve, and it’s also a silly thing to reject writing over. Honestly, we have two stories in the next Spinetingler issue that feature a character with the same name**. I was half tempted to ask one writer to consider a change, but that seemed stupid.

I mean, it isn’t like there’s only one character who’s been named John or Tom or Jane.

**Even if Darlene is my sister’s name.

Now, a lot of people use baby names books to pick names for characters. I do too. But I also use this resource that helps you determine the power of your name.


The Generous, Image-Conscious, Emotional Romantic
This name encourages a great deal of emotion and drama with little grounding or objectivity. A strong full name choice is imperative. For the naturally emotional or scattered individual, this name could be especially difficult. Take a look at how Maryanna "grades" this name, but do keep in mind that your Full Name also plays an important role in overall influence, thus this component of your name does not alone offer a complete picture of your moniker's effect on your life.
Health: C
Financial Potential: D-
Professional/Job Success: B-
Relationship/Compatibility: C+
Charisma/Sex Appeal: A
Communication Ability: A-
The influence is primarily feminine whether this name is used for a female or male.
You share your first name vibration with Elton John, Sandra Bullock, Rose Kennedy and Joe Namath.

Now, before you hop on the “little grounding or objectivity” pony and trot off, bear in mind your first name is tempered by your last name. And in order to get the full profile, you have to pay.

Unless you’re me, and know the radio DJ that’s interviewing the naming consultant. Two years ago, I asked what should be on my book: Sandra Einarson or Sandra Ruttan.

I had writing credits as Sandra Ruttan from my journalism days, and I’d been having a hard time deciding what to do.

They said to write as Sandra Ruttan keep Einarson for my “legal” life on bank accounts and such, because my financial prospects were much better. Though obviously, being named Sandra hasn’t hurt Ms. Bullock too much.

And I’m gratified to know I’ve got a sexy name. (WTF? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read, but whatever…)

Now, if I was going to choose a pseudonym I’d consider:


The Creative, Confident, Objective Director
Take a look at how Maryanna "grades" this name, but do keep in mind that your Full Name also plays an important role in overall influence, thus this component of your name does not alone offer a complete picture of your moniker's effect on your life...
Health: A

Financial Potential: A+

Professional/Job Success: A

Relationship/Compatibility: B+

Charisma/Sex Appeal: B+

Communication Ability: B+

The influence is a balanced blend of masculine and feminine energy, whether this name is used for a female or male.
Others who share this first name vibration include Michael Jordan, Winston Churchill, Diane Sawyer and Andre Agassi.



The Confident, Expressive, Productive Coordinator
Take a look at how Maryanna "grades" this name, but do keep in mind that your Full Name also plays an important role in overall influence, thus this component of your name does not alone offer a complete picture of your moniker's effect on your life.
Health: A
Financial Potential: A+
Professional/Job Success: A
Relationship/Compatibility: B+
Charisma/Sex Appeal: A-
Communication Ability: A+
The influence equally supports both masculine and feminine expression with a little edge toward the masculine.
Others who share your first name vibration include Abraham Lincoln, Geraldo Rivera and Dusty Springfield.

Of course, if I was going to pick a pseudonym for marketing purposes, I think Irene Rankin might be a good choice.. Or Marcia Billingham. How about Vanna McDermid? Yep, those would be good names, nice produce placement names

Okay, so tell me about your name power. And how you pick names. And if the character names ever affect whether you read the book.

And what’s the craziest reason you’ve ever had work rejected for?

Because I’m nosey.

And I’m saving jokes for tomorrow because this is already so long, but to those who’ve been sending them, do not fear! I’ll be using them!
Sorry about the kitty photos - Blogger's not letting me upload them. I'll try again later.

* And clearly, I didn’t wave the THIS IS A JOKE banner enough, because people took it seriously. Okay, I do think the name Apple is a dumb name for a kid. I have the right to my opinion. Geesh, I wonder if the remark I made about mandatory executions for kids because 9 out or 10 are a pain in the ass will be misconstrued… Oh, probably. (There was a context, it was a joke, but I’m not funny.)


Sandra Ruttan said...

No way I was posting this, but for the loyal, faithful commenters...

My least favourite name abuse: Rootin-tootin'-tan.

Call me that at your own risk.

And no, I'm not planning to open Ruttan's Rattan Shop any time soon.

Boy Kim said...

Kim's my middle name. None of my on-line friends has ever known what my first name is.

But I do like my initials... DKD.

David Terrenoire said...

Names are big things. My father swore he had a friend in school names Assalone. First name? Lemi.

I'm not sure that's true because my father would swear to anything for a laugh (the fruit does not fall far, does it), but I did go to school with a guy named Nick Sass. I swear.

Terrenoire was a tough name to grow up with. My brother had bigger problems than I did, but that's because he's a jerk, not because of his name. Now, of course, Terrenoire is a great name, considering the stuff I write.

I tend to name my characters casually, and really get annoyed at writers who name women Morgan or some other Lifetime Channel moniker. I like Jane. I like Sue. Unless she's a LaShawnda.

OK, worst reason for rejection? One publisher did not like my portrayal of the Vietnamese in Beneath A Panamanian Moon. For those who have not read the book, there are no Vietnamese in BAPM.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You've just given me a life mission, Kim! Now I'm so darned curious!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh David, that's insane! Portrayal of the Vietnamese.

I once had someone say, "I think you need to develop more of a reason for X to have killed those girls." To which I flipped the ms to the page and said, "But Y killed them."


Nick Sass. See, name a character that, nobody would take it seriously. Ever.

Vincent said...

The best thing about my first name was that no one I else I knew had it - right up until my latest job, where I have to begrudgingly share it with someone else in my office.

I don't know how Daves and Robs and the like cope with being so common.

That said, David was only the 60th most popular boy's name in England last year and Rob was 69, so maybe they're a dying breed.

Brett Battles said...

I tend to stare at the screen for...I don't know...ten minutes every time I come to a new character I need to name. I tell myself, just put in a placeholder if you can't think of something quickly. Still I'm paralyzed. Often I end up choosing names of friends I had years ago, maybe mixing first and last names. That doesn't always work, but sometimes.

When I've had manuscripts rejected, no one has ever taken the time to point out the specific reason. I will say the favorite rejection I ever received was from a query. My own letter back to me with a tiny ink stamp in the upper right corner, "Not For Us."

angie said...

The only arguments I can think of for changing a character's name are when the name is really, really hard to pronounce, or when it's an obvious play on a famous personality. Although, I have to admit that Tymen is a little too close to Hymen for me to want to use it in a story/novel. But then, I'm just sick that way.

How funny that you really like Cassandra - it's the name of my mc in my wip (although I use Cassie as a nickname). Names are one of those things that seem kind of secondary, but if I've given a character the wrong name they just won't speak to me and come out flat and blah.

JamesO said...

There was a boy at my school called Phillip Amphlett, which I thought was rather funny, but had to explain to everyone else. James is a dull name - there's far too many of us - but I do pity my cousin Christopher Harvey Oswald, now working in America.

In Benfro, all the dragon names are stolen from Welsh mythology, county names and so on. All the men are named after sheep - it seemed easier than making them up, but it's getting quite tricky now as the cast continues to grow.

I wrote an entire novel from the point of view of a character whose name we never learnt, which I think shows a certain amount of indecisiveness on my part. In a later rewrite, I named him in the first chapter, once, but only his first name. I still regret it.

Mostly character names just come to me. In SF you can make up great ones. I had a character called The Milangra Bathooit Larin in Running Away - it just sounded great. Mind you, that book had Lyonne Halrisse IX, Galtroppe Shaen and the memorable Terquid Squiler. That was fun to write.

As for rejection letters, I don't think I've ever been given a reason beyond 'no thanks' or 'this is not right for us,' neither of which is particularly helpful. One comic script came back with 'No! No! No! No! No!' scrawled across it in red biro, though.

JamesO said...

And of course, there was that novel I was critiquing just recently where one character called 'Van' was forever talking to another called 'Morrison'.

Brown Eyed Girl was never far from my mind.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Vincent, I too don't know how anyone named Rob or David, or Kevin, copes.

Brett, no reason at all but "not for us" hardly helps people figure out what is for them, does it? Drives me mad when you get no reason, almost as much as when you get a crazy reason.

Angie, I don't think you're that sick. That said, if people warm to a character they get over it, I think. It's impossible to come up with names that aren't being used everywhere already. Even the name Dennis conjurs up the automatic "the menace" after it. Simon would have the same problem as Tymen.

If I had one name pet peeve, it's the fact that there are enough characters named John and Alex. And bad enough that there are male and female Alex's.

Funny, my husband was writing something before he met me, and he'd named his main characters Steve and Alison, the names of my closest friends.

James, you are lucky to get to do so much with names. You do something original in crime fiction and it gets hotly contested.

The original female character's name in SC was Tess. Changed that because I didn't want people thinking I'd copied Laura Lippman (whose work I hadn't read when I wrote the first draft) but then I realized how hard it was to pick a good name and not have someone already using it.

And people pronounce Lara Lah-ra in some places. It's Lara, rhymes with Sarah.

That's another naming thing - names easily mispronounced can be frustrating. I've gone the whole way through a book thinking the name wrong and found out later it was said differently. Minor annoyance if it's a good book, though.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, and Angie, about Cassandra...In part, after living so many years with my name, I'd find it very hard to change it. Some people have called me Sarah, but obviously, I wouldn't take that name on, much as I like it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And James, point taken. Of course, Morrison was taken from a client's name, and Van was a child I worked with years ago, and not particularly being up on Van Morrison, it never really clued in until much later.

Thank you for bringing up another painful naming moment for me. Sniff. Sergeant somebody-or-the-other will get a new name.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'll change Darlene's name! Why didn't you mention it? I'll ask the Bunions for another deep Texas name with lots of down-home, wrong side of the railroad tracks goodness.

Andre Agassi is a very sexy name by the way, even without knowing what the guy looks like.

M. G. Tarquini said...

The best thing about my first name was that no one I else I knew had it


Half the men in my family are named Vincent!

JT Ellison said...

I hae to laugh at this. I'm a suffering of the naming syndrome. My first name isn't common, and my paretns spelled it differently. Top that off with my maiden name -- Tussey. Uh huh. You can imagine the jokes for that one. Ergo, I shorten to JT, and everyone's happy. I don't have to correct people when they misspell my name, which is truly my biggest pet peeve, and it's easy to pronounce.
Though I do worry that I'll lose that segment of readers who would recognize my name if they saw it on the cover of a book. Whoa there JT, cart before the proverbial horse...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Mindy, I didn't mention it because it's a stupid thing to ask someone to change! Change it if you want to, but not because of me!!! Really, I think it's got to be one of the dumbest things to make commentary on, unless the name is horridly pathetic. Like Cherry Blossom. Good lord.

Sandra Ruttan said...

JT, you'll just have to make sure your picture's on the back! (I have complete confidence.)

One day, someone will endeavour to expose your name and it'll be big news!

JT Ellison said...

I told Battles I'd buy him tequila shots if he figured it out. I'll extend that invitation to you as well:)
See those typos above? I'm listening to music with lyrics.(A wonderful Nashville songwriter name Richard Stooksbury) I CAN'T type and listen to lyrics at the same time. Sorry about the mess.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Man, the pressure's on! Brett and I'll have to conspire together!

No worries on typos. Ever read Stuart MacBride's blog?

Richard Stooksbury sounds like my kind of artist (I went to the website). It's hard to write and listen to music at the same time. Much easier to write and listen to my husband - I just totally tune him out.

Boy Kim said...

Well sweet lady, you could spend the rest of your life guessing or... you could just ask. I'm easy. But that's another story.

Boy Kim said...

I have friends in work - Dennis Knight (who is a 6'2" shaven-haired ex-marine and built like the proverbial) and James Nugent (who is as normal as you can get) - who are universally known as Gladys and Ted respectively.

Although that's more of a nickname thing so I'll shut it now.

Trace said...

During the ages between 4 and 12 I told everyone I met that my names was anything but what it is. I used Deborah, Susan, Linda, Barbara, and Jamie, to name a few. I hated my name. I even bitched my mom out for calling me Tracy several times back then.

I don't mind it now because I think of Spencer Tracy or Dick Tracy. If P.J Tracy hadn't come along I would've used Tracy as a last name in my pen name :)

Brett Battles said...


Joclynn Tussey...did I win? (Not sure I got the spelling exactly right...but I think I'm close...and, yes, I cheated.)

Erich Haught said...

I just thought of this one: Sean Bean. I think it uncomfortably exposes how odd it is to pronounce "Sean" as "Shawn". For dramatic purposes, Sean Bean is best reserved for that character behind the counter at a car rental agency.
“How may I help you, sir,” Sean Bean said.
“Ugh,” Jack said, chuckling a little.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Damn Brett, I hope you're wrong! Maybe it's Joslin Tussey.

LOL Erich! Sean is one of those peculiar spellings, unless you're Irish!

Brett Battles said...

Love the Sean Bean name! We should all use it in a story. Then someone could publish a Sean Bean Shorts (Maybe even call it Sean Bean Shoots)...

Good one, Erich.

Erich Haught said...

I've since realized that Sean Bean is a real person who played Boromir in the Lord of the Rings movies. This illustrates perfectly tenet number five on my latest blog post: Google all "great" ideas.

JT Ellison said...

You're both right and both wrong. The name is correct, but the spelling's off. Damn, I thought I was going to be all incognito and mysterious.
Let me guess, the other J told you, huh?

Gabriele C. said...

I hate nicknames. What's wrong with Robert and Richard? I know it's so common in the US, therefore I refrain from telling people not to call me Gab, Gaby, Gabe or any other muck esp. in chat where Gabriele is too long to type, but it's hard.

If I needed an alias (well, my last name is an alias already) I'd go for some gender neutral place name as first name, like Arran Campbell or Islay Campbell.

Character names in historical fiction are fun. If you're into actually researching names. :)

Roman names follow some rather tricky patterns (it's not just sticking three names ending in -us together), there are almost no Pictish names and the ones we have are spelled according to Latin rules, and often names were changed according to language. Ciaran becomes Ceranus for the Romans, and Alastair O'Duibhne an Talla Dearg is Alexandre de Taldaire in France and Alexander Duvnesson in Norway.

Gabriele C. said...

Oh, and Sean Bean. Is. HOT. :)

JT Ellison said...

Yes, I'm buying the tequila. Damn it!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Poor JT! Your secret's safe with... the 12 people who read my blog!

Gabriele, yes. Sean Bean is hot!

Brett Battles said...

Tequila...yummm....And another J did tell me, though she didn't realize it (re: embedded in the email address.) But I would have never got the "t" if you didn't give it up here today.

Can't wait for that drink!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Please tell me all three of us with be at BoucherCon.

Brett Battles said...

I'm there. Register last December. Hotel room booked, and booze already chilling in my refrigerator. Okay, so the booze might be gone by Bouchercon time. I'll buy some more...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Right on! There will be some partying in Madison! Maybe I should smuggle some real beer across the border.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I think it's got to be one of the dumbest things to make commentary on, unless the name is horridly pathetic. Like Cherry Blossom. Good lord.

*crosses Cherry Blossom off her list of top picks as replacements for Darlene*

think think think

Fifi LaRue?
Tisha Bov?
Chlamydia Caperstein?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

When I was in high school there was a guy named...Joseph Edward Christopher Brian Franscis Zavier lie...that was really his name!

jackt said...

Funniest real-life name I ever heard:
Phuc Vu

I exhaled my soda through my nostrils when I first heard it.

Linda L. Richards said...

Jackt said: "I exhaled my soda through my nostrils when I first head it."

Dontcha know that stuff will kill you? Switch to wine or maybe scotch, at least then there's benefit in both directions.

And the results on "Linda" were so dismal they were abysmal. I'd better change my name. Sandra, did you say you have dibs on "Maren"? 'Cause that'd work.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Mindy!

Oh man, Bonnie, can you imagine living with that?!

jackt - I'd snort that through my nose too! Though I have to second Linda's recommendation to switch to wine.

Linda, you can take Maren. Now I'm running off to see how badly 'Linda' did.