WHAT’S IN A NAME?: A guest post by Alexandra Y. Caluen

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter’ – T.S. Eliot

At what point do fictional characters get a name? Generally, it’s when they have to be identified in order to make it clear who another character is talking to, or who is speaking, or who is doing something.

How a name is assigned is a Process. Mine has evolved a little.

The first L.A. Story was Getting Off (2012). The names in this story don’t do much beyond signal family history. Vicky Russo = Italian-American. Sharon Weiss = Jewish. Vicky’s parents live in Brooklyn and have not come into the stories in ways that necessitate names. Sharon’s parents, on the other hand, live in L.A. Her mother is a part-time caregiver for Vicky and Sharon’s daughter; and her father is the employer of Grace Gutierrez in Today, Tomorrow and Forever. There’s also a trick name in that first novella: Vince Connor. We learn (eventually) that Vince is short for Vicente; his mother is Mexican. Her name is Esmeralda, which is a tribute to my late lamented cat Emerald.

I always say a name out loud to test it. ‘Sandesh Prasad,’ for example (A Few Kisses Ago): that name tells us the character is of South Asian heritage, but also has a nice DAH-da-da-DAH rhythm. The last name is borrowed from a friend. The first name is readily nicknamed as Sandy, which is how he’s known to his colleagues at the beginning. By the end of the book, he’s gone through some stuff and the diminutive doesn’t cut it.

Sometimes names are not simply names. Sometimes they are part of the fun of the book (e.g. Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material), and sometimes more than that.

I found a brief discussion on names in the Arden St. Ives trilogy at Mr. Hall’s blog (find this at https://quicunquevult.com/hot-giveaway-action/).  It’s to do with what animals those characters would be, which is entertaining, and which helped me assemble this list of names which I, as a reader, thought were coded. (One confirmed as such, elsewhere on Mr. Hall’s blog.)

Arden: no explanation needed; Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden (occurring in As You Like It, which in a sense is what this trilogy is all about) is called out more than once. Add a ‘t’ and the name becomes ‘ardent;’ that describes this character perfectly. St. Ives: an old English riddle rhyme.

Caspian: possibly a geographic allusion; in literature, a prince – the first time I saw this name, it was in The Chronicles of Narnia. Hart: ‘stag,’ in other words, a prey animal found in forests (hmm). Also a term associated with beauty, glamour, and heroism.

Nathaniel: Gift of God. Priest: enough said. This guy has both a savior complex and a martyr complex. He and Niall (Glitterland) should get together.

George: a clever name for a trans character; there’s literary precedent for a woman using a man’s name, and here it’s a man who is a woman. Chase: what she does.

Lancaster: a historical name – see the Wars of the Roses; code for ‘thinks he is king,’ if you ask me. Steyne: in my head I pronounce this ‘stain,’ which is completely appropriate.

Justin: a name awarded by Steyne, the vile older man who starts all of Caspian’s troubles; this name has a lot of obvious coding from ‘justice’ to Justine (see the Marquis de Sade (or not, ugh)). Bellerose: in my opinion, this is the most overt reference in the trilogy to ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Ilya (Justin’s real name) Bellerose is literally the rose whose petals are falling as Caspian draws closer to the brink of destruction through self-denial.

I haven’t done anything quite like that in The L.A. Stories. I do, however, use names to help ground my characters. Often it’s ethnicity (e.g. Luis Ramirez). Sometimes it’s a cultural nod (Janis Vaughn, who’s a musician). Sometimes both: Tony Benedetti (The Continental) is Italian. This name is also an homage to Tony Bennett, one of the great entertainers of the 20th century. Tanith Salazar, a theater professional, is a special case. The surname is from a friend’s ex-wife, but also Salazar Slytherin. Tanith isn’t a bad guy! I was only having fun with it. Tanith is a name she chose herself. It’s an ancient name associated (like Lilith) with transgressive female power. It’s also an easy way out of Tabitha, the name her mother gave her. As she puts it: “Did my mother have something to say about that? Yes, yes she did. But if you grew up being called Tabby you would have changed your name too.”


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