To illustrate the power of a name to influence the character, consider the tale of Geeta:
Geeta was a real surprise. She was originally just a bit character. I think her sole purpose was to give Alan a reason to be in the beginner class. I no longer recall why that mattered, but it seemed important at the time.
Aware now of the power of a name to shape the character, I left her unnamed. I wanted to keep her character “malleable”. As she worked with Alan, I just called her, “Girl in the Office”.
Anyway, I took to abbreviating “Girl in the Office” to GITO. But that looked masculine, so I changed it to GITA. Spoken aloud, that sounded vaguely Indian. So, one day I looked it up. Yup, there’s a legitimate Indian name Geeta (also spelled Gheeta). She had a name, and suddenly…
Boom! Geeta in all her glory was right there in front of me. I suppose the character of Geeta has its roots in the various female Indian engineers I’ve worked with over the years. Whatever the source, she was a complete character from the word… Geeta.
Out of that single event, naming a character, came Bollywood, Bollywood Redux, and a new love interest for Ray. None of it was in the original story outline.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot.
I assigned Geeta’s fiance the first male Indian named that popped into my head – Shrinivas. It occurred to me later that randomly combining Indian names might cross some sub-cultural lines, so I checked with an Indian friend to make sure that Geeta and Shrinivas didn’t come from rival clans or something. He told me I was safe.
The names of bit characters can normally be assigned with impunity, so sometimes I have a little fun with it. The names of Alan’s co-workers discussed in “Tarnish on the Gilding” form the street-by-street directions from Interstate 4 to Curt and Tammy Worlock’s dance studio in Plant City, Florida…
And Alan and Alyssa’s teachers for Three Times a Lady – the “Beissenbergers from Montana”. If you still don’t get it, try saying it out loud.
Sometimes, characters have names that indicate something about their, well, character. The character of Jackie always reminded me of Jackie O. Hence, her name. And the name of her late husband (Jack). Her last name is O’Neil – an Irish name (like Kennedy) that sounds a bit like Onassis.
Ben Vidkunsen, the traitor in Alan’s world, is named after Ben(edict) Arnold and (son-of) Vidkun Quissling, a famous Nazi collaborator in WWII.
But Alan’s adoring/adored youngest sister is no bit character. During early story development on At’s Amore, I called her by a different name, but then realized (just in time) that I had already told readers that Alan’s sisters were named Naomi and Ruthy in The Bicycle Waltz. Oops. Fortunately, the name “Ruthy” fit this character just fine.
Naomi was my mother’s name, by the way, and she had a sister named Ruth. Alan’s sisters quickly evolved on their own, but Naomi in particular shares many traits with her namesake – always well dressed, well spoken, and well mannered.
The story outline had a couple who were long-time friends of Ray and Shelly, recently returned to the circuit. Naturally, I started referring to them as the Freunds – “freund” meaning “friend” in German. As we had known a couple by that name during the time we lived in Germany, I conferred those first names on our fictional couple.
Jean was never really comfortable with having these not-quite-bit characters bear someone’s real name. So, when we met Jeff and Pamela Johnson at a Worlock dance clinic in Florida, and Pamela mentioned offhandedly that it would be fun to have a character named after them, it seemed like fate…