Finding the right name is a vital part of creating a character. I enjoyed naming most of the people in my mystery Meditating Murder, but the roguish antiquities dealer kept refusing to cooperate.
The idea for his character came from someone I knew back before I had much sense. That man was big, beefy, fascinating and terrifying. He seemed like a good model because he had the brash confidence and dangerous charm I thought a free-lance antiquities dealer would need.
When I first started writing about him, I called him Rafe Ramsey. Rafe was short for Rafael, a name I thought sounded exotic. Also, Rafe sounded like Rake—a man who was reckless, with libertine tendencies. Since everyone in a murder mystery could be a killer, I thought Rafe had the right potential. Ramsey was his last name because I liked the alliteration. And since Ramsey means "wild garlic," that wasn't a bad image either.
Rafe was an American at first. Then, I realized he had to be British. Partly because Brits still have cachet in India (where he'd be buying antiquities), and partly because I wanted him to be like the expat Brits I knew in Saudi Arabia—opinionated, audacious, and always looking for a ready drink and a quick lay.
I tried to believe the name Rafe Ramsey was working in the story, but every time I'd write a scene for him or read it aloud in my critique group, his name embarrassed me. It sounded "made up." He just didn't seem like a real character. In moments of frustration, I'd think, Who IS this man?
The only way to "round" him out—make him live—was to find out more about him. I read articles on antiquities dealers, made notes about him, and imagined him in real life (How would Rafe look and sound buying this bag of spinach in Safeway?) The more I learned, the more his name seemed wrong.
One day in a graveyard, I had an epiphany. I occasionally walk in my local cemetery because it's peaceful and has a beautiful view over the valley. That day, I began noticing names at random--Swanson, Hogarth, Avila, Mary, Joyce, Ivan. Suddenly, I knew I would find Rafe's real name here. I pulled out my phone and began reading names into it. I felt a little odd doing it, but when the imagination is afire, what else matters?
Back at my computer, I decided this character had one of the hyphenated British surnames I love. I began putting combinations together—Poole, Dawson-Poole; Barone-Chevreau. Finally, I had Blaine-Poole, and I knew at once that his first name was Michael.
I recognized this as one of the magic moments writing gives us sometimes. In that graveyard, contrary old Rafe Ramsey was reborn as debonair Michael Blaine-Poole--rakish and possibly murderous, but smartly turned out and very much alive!
Image Credit: Lee Avison at pixels.com