Why Does This Character Torment Me So?

He refuses every name I give him. Argh!

Everyone else in my newest historical series is comfortable with their names. The nineteen-year-old heroine Cora Countryman’s name is a combination of names from my hometown in Illinois, the model for the booming prairie town in the books. But my hero . . . he refuses to cooperate! His name has changed so many times that my computer screen has erasure holes.

Kewanee, Illinois Historical Society

Names are everything, right? Normally, once the character sketch is complete, they pop into my head and stick. Finn Sturdevant, Grieg Washburn, Brendan Whitelaw, MacLaury and Byron Cooper. But this guy is a puzzlement. He was comfortable being Israel Francis (Rafe) Kaufman from Chicago in the first book, then when I started plotting the second book, wham, he announces he is from Tennessee and demands a new name.

Overlooking the obvious and assuming I have some control over my stories, perhaps I should have given more time upfront to his backstory. I thought I had it all figured out; it’s just . . .

In book one we learn that he was a drummer boy at the Battle of Chickamauga, went to an Eastern college, and is now a newspaperman. Then while plotting book two, he insisted he was a Southern drummer boy, not Northern, and all bets were off.

Bless his heart, the change added depth to the plot, the series, and his character.

So, Israel Kaufman from Chicago permutated to Bedford Kaufman because what name conjures Civil War Era Tennessee more than General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The former Israel Kaufman was semi-okay being Bedford Kaufman, but the Tennessee census indicated that there were literally no Kaufmans in the state in the 1870s.

So, we settled on the surname Kanady. Bedford (Ford) Kanady appealed to him, enough for a complete name change. But he is a tad prickly about his image and worries that the name is a bit card-sharky. There was talk of Harry Kanady, but he claims it is a gunslinger’s name. ‘Just not me‘ has become his mantra. In addition to the census, we have tried to find his using name generators, birth records, online family trees, yoga, and standing on our heads in a corner.

He insists the name must convey savvy and internal toughness. Oh, and a hint of danger, a hazy past, a sharp tongue, and a few visible and invisible scars. He believes he is the kind of guy you see buying stamps at the Post Office who conjures an intriguing fantasy involving magic markers and dark rooms.

Come on . . . you know the type!

Wait a minute! Would Jason Bedford work? Jason . . . Jase, perhaps, to his friends. He isn’t thrilled with Jason. It feels a bit modern, possibly too Western movie for him. There is definite hesitation on his part.

I’ll let him ponder Jason for the night, maybe introduce himself to a few of the other characters. You know, try it on for a while before another search and replace. Wait! Now he speculates that he likes the initial J. and is leaning toward J. Bedford Kanady. Why an initial makes a difference, I don’t know. But he likes the unknown of the J., the rhythm of the full name, and the hint of je ne sais quoi in the diminutive of Ford.  It could work. Maybe? Sounds stuffy to me. But if he likes it . . . whatever!


As promised, here are the solutions to LAST MONTH’S FIRST LINE QUIZ. I am sure you all aced it.

First Line of BookTitle of Book
Last night I dreamed I went to Manderlay again.Rebecca
All the Venables sat at Sunday dinner.Cimarron
The whole affair began very quietly.Madam, Will You Talk?
They were interviewing Clint Maroon.Saratoga Trunk
Nothing ever happens to me.My Brother Michael
It was a cold gray day in late November.Jamaica Inn
They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.My Cousin Rachel

10 thoughts on “Why Does This Character Torment Me So?

  1. I agree, names can make or break a character for me and the story. What about calling him J. Ford? Or J.F.? I even struggle with minor characters. Even some that may only be mentioned a couple of times. A name is what identifies a person or a character. Good luck! Can’t wait to read the book and see how it all turns out.


    1. Thanks for the input. I’ll check out J. Ford with him, he might like it. I, too, struggle with my minor characters, as well.

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  2. Years ago I was into the second or third draft of a novel when a character when a character evolved so much that I began to feel his name was wrong. I tried changing it, and I could feel the entire story falling apart in my hands. This wasn’t something I ever anticipated when I began writing but I’m very careful with names, and I watch my characters evolve according to how they’re tagged. It’s fascinating. I hope your character settles into his new name.


    1. I think he has settled on a name. I’m letting him live with it for a day or two. I’m grateful that his issues didn’t deconstruct the series, but rather enhance it. But, trust me, I understand how easily a name can redirect a storyline.

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