Thursday, 12 June 2008

Naming Characters

I've always had trouble naming characters. It's hard to come up with believable, appropriate names. With my work-in-progress, a horror novel set in Civil War Missouri, it's been a bit easier. I've been looking through online genealogical databases for actual family names from the times. Since various ethnicities came to the state in different decades it would be unrealistic for me to have, for example, a bunch of Italian-Americans in 1860s Missouri. Most of them didn't show up until well after the war.

Yesterday I needed a name for a minor character, a Union militia officer who appears in only part of one chapter. I happened to have my Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar open next to me. It's a fun little daily planner with a writer interviewed every week. My interview appears on the week of July 6. Anyway, the calendar marks the birthdays of famous authors, and my eye flicked to the bottom of the page, and there on June 14 was the birthday of a writer named Stowe.

I thought, "Hey, that's a good name," and typed it in. Captain Stowe was born. Then it hit me, this was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that was hugely influential on the abolitionist movement before the Civil War. I'd already written up my captain as an ardent abolitionist who punished Southern sympathizers with a heavy hand, so it became a doubly appropriate name.

The funny thing is, perceptive readers will probably think I named him after the author on purpose in order to make a symbolic point, when in fact it was just a random chance!

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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