Today Lynda Mullaly Hunt stops by to give me her thoughts on The Character of Names!
Hmmmmm, so you’d like to know about where I get my character names. I bet it’s all more complicated than you may think—as most things are with me! J Well, for character names I always go back to family….
All of my main characters have been named after a long-lost relative—literally.
Carley Connors of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS was named for my paternal great-grandmother, Lizzie Connors, who was born in 1867. She was a tailoress.
Lucy Nickerson of ALPHABET SOUP (my second book under contract with Nancy Paulsen Books) is named for my maternal great, great-grandfather, Sastman James Nickerson.
I started choosing family names because I thought it would be fun, but I have to admit a strange connection to these names as I scan the family tree. Usually, there is a name that immediately pops out that fits the character I have in mind. I suppose that means I’ll have lots of Irish-sounding characters in my career.
In One for the Murphys, I wanted to name the foster mother after a mentor that had inspired me, so I decided to give them different names but the same initials—JM. I decided to go with an Irish last name and “Murphy” came to me immediately. Then I had to choose a “J” first name. I tried a few on for size and settled on “Julie.” It sounded friendly with the long “e” sound at the end. Yup. Julie Murphy was perfect. And I especially liked the name “Murphy”—it seemed to fit, somehow.
The foster dad had a few names before I settled on Jack. I wrote him as “Cal” for a while, but decided it was too close to Carley.
The name, Michael Eric, is very special to me, as this was my brother’s name. He died when we were young—just shortly before his fourth birthday from an asthma attack. I was even younger than him, so I don’t remember him but his picture is near my desk and I think of him every day. So, the youngest Murphy boy—the one who first breaks through to Carley—is named Michael Eric.
Of the three boys, I felt like I knew the oldest the best early on. I knew he was angry about having Carley in his home even though he didn’t even have a name yet. Knowing that Michael Eric was already going to be the name of one boy, I figured I’d name them to fit the acronym “mad” in honor of that oldest boy and chose Michael Eric, Adam, and Daniel as the group of three. Daniel’s middle name also has significance, but you’ll have to read the story to find out what that is. J
The final names that I put some thought into was Carley’s best friend, Toni, and her step father, Dennis, but to explain these would serve as spoilers and I don’t love spoilers…
Mr. Ruben is a great character—I love him. He is a bit of a goofball, so I named him after a sandwich. I figured, Why not?
As both a reader and writer, I do believe that character names are important. Certain names do conjure up ideas, pre-conceived notions, and feelings. The names we choose help to create the fully fleshed-out character. I spend a lot of time considering character names and I know that I always will because it’s important in laying down the foundation of my story. And I don’t even mean for the reader—I mean for me. If the name doesn’t feel right in my gut, the words just won’t flow.
And that, of course, is a bit of a problem.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature. She is also a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Lynda has been Director of the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for six years. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat.
Praise for One for the Murphys:
“An astonishing debut! Lynda Mullaly Hunt's direct style of writing has readers rooting for Carley Connors and all of the Murphys from start to satisfying finish.”
~~Leslie Connor, ALA Schneider Family Award-winning author of Waiting for Normal and Crunch.
“This is a beautiful book, filled with hope. You’ll cry and laugh along with Carley as she learns to lower her defenses enough to love—and, more surprisingly, be loved. It’s a story you’ll long remember.”
~~Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Honor-winning author of Pictures of Hollis Woods and Lily’s Crossing