“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So says Shakespeare, but we’re not so sure. It’s really amazing how real your fictional characters become in your head, and their name is very much a part of them.
Shelly was always Shelly. Her real name is Michelle, but we’ve always called her Shelly (full maiden name – MIchelle Ollivette Prouty – don’t ask me how I know…). “Ray” was a placeholder. It was, of course, based on Rey Garza, who was the original inspiration for the character. But we always intended to change the name later. We left that until the end, thinking it would be an easy global search-and-replace in Word. How innocent we were! We quickly found that Ray resisted re-naming. Try as we might, we just couldn’t come up with another name that suited him. About that time, Paul went to San Jose on business, and the Garzas were at the Jubilee festival that weekend. He met with the Garzas, explained about the book and the characters, and asked how they felt about the names (Ray and Shelly are pretty close to Rey and Sherry!). They were great sports about it, and said they didn’t mind at all. About this time, Paul was starting to have doubts about whether to publish the book. “OK, we’ve had our fun, but who [this is a quote, so I can use who rather than whom, grammar Nazis] are we kidding? We’re not writers.” The Garzas were emphatic. “If you like the book, publish it,” they said, “and don’t worry about what anybody else thinks.” This encouragement came at just the right time, and we are indebted to them for it.
Alan was always Alan, and can never be anyone but Alan (said the mother Jaguar, graciously waving her tail). Rowling says in Cuckoo’s Calling that, when asked to think of a false name, most people pick one starting with the letter A. Maybe there’s something in that.
Lynn was always Lynn. Readers may have noticed that there are no detailed descriptions in the book of any of the characters. Jean considers this a weakness; Paul considers it a strength (let each reader picture the character as his own imagination wishes). For the most part, Paul doesn’t have clear images of the characters’ faces, but he did see Lynn once. It was at a Safeway store in Santa Clara. She was there at the coffee shop with her husband and new-born child. Paul wishes he had surreptitiously taken her picture. When he saw her, his mind said, “that’s Lynn”. He has never seen Shelly in real life, and cannot clearly picture her face, but he’s sure he will know her if he ever sees her. Ditto Alan.
Lynn’s husband wasn’t originally Dennis. In fact, Dennis was not Dennis until after the book was pretty much completed. He went by another name. But it was a common enough name that we knew several men of that name, and Jean was uncomfortable with the idea that they might think they were Dennis.
At that time, we didn’t know anyone named Dennis. Since then, two men have joined our local round dance community named… Dennis.
Dennis was OK with a name change, but it wasn’t so simple with the character Alyssa. Alyssa, too, originally had the same name as a person or persons we knew (although the name was all they had in common). But Alyssa was, like Ray, reluctant to accept a new name. We ran quite a few names by her, and she finally, grudgingly, accepted Alyssa. But she will always be <that other name> to Paul. Her last name is Porter, by the way. Don’t ask me how I know…
Alyssa’s friends’ names were just names chosen because they were appropriate for that generation.
Kandi has always been Kandi, much to Jean’s annoyance. The scene called for such a character to explain to Alan about the round dance / square dance connection, about the Tenrio’s divorce, etc. When Paul went to write the scene, she introduced herself to Alan as “Kandi -with a ‘K’ and an ‘I'”. Jean has always hated the three tick marks (single quote + double quote) required by that sentence, but Kandi has steadfastly refused to be renamed, and Paul has stood by her…
The subject of punctuation around quotation marks was also hotly debated between us, by the way. But that’s for another post.
“Zimmix” is, of course, made up. It was originally spelled “Zimix”, and sounds like a generic start-up name, using the beginning of our own last name. But then Jean found this urban dictionary entry: “Zimmix – A term used to describe a cool and great and excellently amazing person”. That was just too good to pass up…
Ray’s last name, Tenrio, is a contraction of “Tenorio”. Tenorio was Don Juan’s last name, and is, we believe, used in Spanish the way “Casanova” is used in English.
Maria and Richard were loosely inspired by some round dance friends of ours. Their last names pay tribute to this connection, but we won’t explain how just yet (give those that know them a chance to puzzle it out first). Maria has slowly become one of Paul’s favorite characters. Her personality is an amalgam of bits and pieces of people he has known, plus a little splash that is just Maria.
The square dance callers, Jet Roberts, Joe Saltel, Ashley Parker and Hunter Keller, are all real people, and they really do sing and harmonize as described in the book. And that fish-pun singing call is a real Jet & Joe routine.
Our original rule was, “no real names or real people on the round dance side.” This broke down, however, with Maria’s dinner party. At the completion of the first draft of the book, Maria’s dinner party was listed in the “deleted scenes” file. The outlines of the such a scene had been discussed, but it didn’t, at the time, help to tell the story. Then Claire introduced herself one day, and the scene had a purpose. As it got fleshed out, we had trouble picturing it without some of our real round dance friends. Marie and Gordon (our real-life teachers) were there, as, to our surprise, were we. We already had a mention early in the book (did you catch it? Shelly repeats a rumor that the Schreibers are writing a book about round dance, and Alan hopes he’s not in it!), but there we were, indispensably present at Maria’s dinner party. “Schreiber” is German for “scribe”, by the way. That’s the way Paul often feels when writing – like a bystander watching the characters interact and taking notes.
We already had characters inspired by Marie and Gordon in the book without having given them names, so we just let them be Marie and Gordon. Then we changed them to other names. Then we went back to Marie and Gordon. It’s funny to note that, during the brief time that they went by those other names, their personalities began to diverge from the real Marie and Gordon. A rose by any other name, indeed…
Once Marie and Gordon were in there, the “no real people” rule was shattered, and the Drumhellers soon followed. They are our other real-life teachers.
The incident with the employee who took summer leave and the evil boss who persecuted him was inspired by a real-life incident. “Teufel” means “devil” in German.
Saint Mohammed is a real person as well. We left his name unchanged (except for the canonization) as a tip of the hat to this outstanding individual. He was Paul’s boss when our daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and he couldn’t have been kinder. A colleague who also worked for him had a similar tale to tell. People like that restore your faith in humanity.
Brandon and Matthew came into being as Brandon and Matthew, and their names never changed. It was only after the manuscript was complete that Paul realized they have the same first initials as our own twin sons. Something churning away there in the subconscious perhaps?
Matthew’s doctors got renamed. Papillon means “butterfly” in French. The thyroid gland is butterfly-shaped. Dr Mazzi’s real identity will be clear to anyone and everyone in the thyroid cancer world. He passed away a few years ago. He was a wonderful doctor. His colleague, who performed the FNA, is called Dr. Piper in the book. This is what her real name translates to in English.
These last three are examples of names deliberately given by the authors. Generating fake names for real people is a conscious process. But the fictional characters are another matter. Sometimes, you know the character and they tell you their name (Kandi, Claire), and sometimes you name the character (Alan), and the character evolves with the name.
So, a rose may be a rose by any other name, but a character is not a character by any other name but his own.