Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cast of Characters, Part 2

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a post on Jonathan Carleton’s very complex geneology going back to the Vikings, but for today I’m going wrap up how I named my characters in this series. In comparison, it was a piece of cake for Bob and me to name our cast for Northkill since all except a couple were real people. The only essential characters we didn’t have names for were the mother of the family and the baby daughter, both of whom were killed in the attack. How we settled on the most plausible names for them is described on the Characters page on the Northkill website. Regretfully I did have to overrule Bob’s vote for naming the mother Tiffany, though for a moment I was sorely tempted.

But I digress. Back to our topic. I’m including several portraits so you can get an idea of what these people look like to me. Someday I’ll have a page up on the series website with portraits for all of the major fictional characters and some minor ones too.

Abby Howard
During the colonial period, many people, especially in New England, bore biblical names. It made things easy to distribute the names of some of my favorite Bible characters among my cast. Joseph was already taken by one of the real characters, Dr. Joseph Warren, so I settled on Samuel for Elizabeth’s father. Although it’s not exactly biblical (though Anna is), I’ve always liked the name Anne, which feels elegant and graceful, but also warm and loving, and that became her mother’s name. I wanted to name Elizabeth’s little sister Abigail for Abigail Adams, thus her nickname, Abby.

Naming Samuel’s sister, who has an important role in the series, was harder and I agonized over it for a good while. Another non-biblical name, Theresa, kept coming back to me, and the nickname Tess felt just right, so Aunt Tess she became. That left the maternal side of Elizabeth’s family. For some reason the surname Stern popped up very quickly. I liked its . . . well . . . stern tone. Joshua is another of my favorite biblical characters, and accordingly Elizabeth’s maternal uncle became Joshua Stern or Uncle Josh. We needed a William, a common English name of the time, and that nicely fit Joshua’s oldest son, nicknamed Will. And then the younger son arrived fully formed as Levi.

Jemma Moghrab
An indispensable sidekick and guardian for Elizabeth, who appeared with the second chapter of Daughter of Liberty, turned out to be a free black man who works for the Howards. I knew right away his name was Isaiah, my favorite Old Testament prophet. For a long time he didn’t have a surname—what in the world do you name a former slave who escaped as a child and lived with the Delaware Indians for years before showing up in Boston? But by book 2 he had to have a last name, so I went through a stack of National Geographics I’d horded over the years, looking up every African surname I could find. His mother had told him his African name before he was sold away from her and managed to escape, and he’d never forgotten it. So Isaiah became Isaiah Moghrab. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, lent her name to Isaiah’s. They named their oldest son Samuel, nicknamed Sammy, for Dr. Howard, who bought her out of slavery. Their younger son adamantly declared himself to be Pete. No idea why, but he refused to change it. The youngest child of the family, a daughter, was Jemma from the beginning, which is fitting because she is a true gem.

Charles Andrews
Then I needed a name for Jonathan’s sidekick. As I recall, I’d recently run across the name Andrews somewhere—a surname I’d always thought sounded cool—and in mentally filing through first names common to the time, Charles seemed to fit the best with it. Then his and Jonathan’s servants popped up out of the blue, thankfully both with names attached: Stowe and Briggs. As third-level characters they didn’t actually acquire first names until fairly recently—James Stowe and Henry Briggs. Stowe’s physical description came along with his first appearance, and although I have no idea what contrary muse is responsible, I totally love it! To my surprise, he’s also developed unexpected talents and made himself so indispensable over the course of the series that I’ve come to value him as highly as Jonathan does.

Dr. Pieter Vander Groot
I know I’ve left out several important characters, such as Dr. Pieter Vander Groot. But before I write an unwieldy tome on this subject, I’m going to stop here, though I’m including this portrait, which comes the closest to how I visualize him. At another time I may go into how I found names for the Native American cast in the series, which at times was an ordeal because I didn’t want to duplicate names of real people of the time. It’s an interesting and lengthy subject in itself.

Do you have a favorite fictional character—or two—whose name you especially love? Perhaps it fits the character perfectly in some way or you just particularly like how it sounds. One of my very favorites is Jane Eyre. Jane is a plain, common name that gives the impression that this character will be plain and common as well. But the surname Eyre is highly unusual and catches your attention. It has a light, open feeling because it sounds like “air.” Paired, the two names hint that, although this character is plain on the surface, subtle and unexpected nuances lie below that will keep your—and Mr. Rochester’s—emotions deeply engaged.

What character names do you love, and why?

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