what’s in a name?

I always knew I was going to have to change some of the names in Repeating History, which, if all goes well, will be available for purchase at Amazon or via any of the formats Smashwords will provide, by the end of this month. 

Some of the characters in this story are real historical people.  Those who had only fleeting walk-ons have kept their names, but several — mostly members of a family in 1870s Helena, Montana, and the man who married the eldest daughter of that family, are central characters in my novel.  I don’t want to offend any of their descendants, so I’ve spent the last several days figuring out new names for all of them.

Speaking as someone who once fictionalized the small town of Libby, Montana, by giving it the name Campbell (okay, the reason is obvious to me, but I may be dating myself if no one else remembers the commercial jingle “Libby, Libby, Libby on the label, label, label”), I needed the names to be similar in ways that may not make sense to anyone but me.  Not just ethnically, although I did take that into account.  But the way they sound, their resonances and associations, and whether or not they come with nicknames were important, too.  For instance, I wanted to give a name that had a nickname to a man whose real name did not come with one.  This would have added some serious unnecessary editing time as I chose where he’d go by his nickname and where he would not, so, reluctantly, I chose another name.  Fortunately, as it turns out, I like this one better, anyway.

Why didn’t I do all this at the beginning?  Back when I first started the novel?  Because, frankly, I didn’t know who these people would turn out to be.  Generally speaking, most characters who show up in my head come complete with first, middle, and last names, and with entire backstories.  But most of the characters who show up in my head are not in real history books.  I wasn’t sure how much they would change from their real lives as the story was written.   

And so this was my last editing chore before I sent the book off to be proofread. 

Now all I have to do is correct any errors found in that process, format the book for Amazon and Smashwords, finish monkeying with the cover image, and upload the darned thing!

I love the whole process of naming, whether it’s a cat or a character.  Do you?