Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Character of Names with Giacomo Giammatteo

Today author Giacomo Giammatteo stops by to discuss his views on The Character of Names!

Gabrielle, thanks for having me visit. I really appreciate it.

I have a thing about names in a book. I feel strongly that they should fit not only the character but the place and setting as well.

My book takes place in Brooklyn, NY as well as Wilmington, DE. And in both cases, the settings and the characters involve ethnic communities of Italian or Irish ancestry. This has a lot to do with how, and why, the characters were named.

There is no denying that many of the people in the Italian community had colorful nicknames. We see it in the movies all the time associated with the Mafia, but the naming went far beyond the Mafia element. It has been part of the Italian community for a long time. I have my own theory on why this might be, so I’ll share it.

This is my opinion, so take it for what it's worth. I always thought it might have had something to do with the old Italian naming tradition. The first-born male was named after the paternal grandfather and the second after the maternal grandfather. The same applied to the females, only with the grandmothers. Because the Italian families tended to be large, you ended up with lots of cousins all named "John" or "Joseph," and girls with names like "Rose" and "Mary."

To distinguish one from another they were given nicknames. The great thing was, these nicknames described them and fit their personalities. So you might have five kids with the name John, but the one who smiled a lot becomes known as "Johnny Smiles," and maybe a chubby one earns the name "Johnny Two Cheeks." Many of the names in the book came from real-life examples; in fact, the character "Doggs," in Murder Takes Time, was my brother's name. 

I go into detail in the book about how the names were “earned.” And yes, in the neighborhood where I grew up, you had to earn your nickname. I believe strongly that using the right names in a book goes a long way toward giving it more credibility. If an author uses the right names, the book just “feels” right.


Heather Lynne said...

This was a great book! I enjoyed it and thought it was fast paced and fun.

Heather Lynne said...

Great insight on why you named your characters the way you did! I agree that many people with Italian backgrounds have the same names and then are given nicknames.