Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

By Kevin Guilfoile

I'm completely tone deaf when I'm trying to make up names. If my wife hadn't stopped me, our children would have been named Gipper and Gilligan. Gipper and Gilligan Guilfoile.

This wouldn't be a huge problem except making up names is about 15% of a novelist's job. I'm like a pro golfer who needs work on his putting. An NBA center who can't make free throws.

A few of the characters in my stories have names that have some kind of meaning. Those were created on my good days. Others are people I knew in high school. Most of the time when I start writing a new character I open up the Tribune and I take a first name from Business and a last name from Tempo and if they sound good together that's the character's name. Last year I wrote about a terrific interpretation of Cast of Shadows that came about only because I started writing a character on the day Martha Stewart was indicted.

I often pick names from baseball players. Years ago, when I needed to create a persona so I could pretend to be a Chicago sports columnist (long story, another day) I went to my baseball card collection. I found a card of an old-time player named Topper Rigney next to a card of a player named Preston Shanks and I became Topper Shanks, Bulls beat writer. Topper was a regular pundit on Wichita sports talk radio during the Michael Jordan days.

I repeated the technique when I wanted to write humor under a pen name. A pair of White Sox legends, Carlton Fisk and Larry Doby, were pressed into service as Carlton Doby, McSweeney's puzzlemaster.

I am always humbled when I discover a real name I wished I had made up. Right now, I'm obsessed with Sox third base coach Razor Shines. I'm not sure exactly what kind of character he'd be. In fact I'm convinced it wouldn't matter. I think a series of Razor Shines novels would be a gigantic success no matter the subject.

So who is your Razor Shines? What real people have names so good that you wish you had made them up?

And I'm open to suggestions for my Razor Shines character. Homicide Detective? Serial Killer? FBI? Forensic Orthopedist?

15 comments:

JD Rhoades said...

Eroneous McCrae, Jr.

No lie.

The Home Office said...

I used to work with a guy named Tony Rettagliata, pronounced "retaliata." Great name for a hood. This guy was a salesman, so it was pretty close.

Razor Shines would have to be a serious badass, cut you for looking at him the wrong way. Some day he could become a father, have a little boy. Name him Razor Shines, Jr. Everyone would call him Son.

sandra seamans said...

Ruby Bump. Real name, real lady. I can only imagine what her high school years were like with a name like that.

And Razor Shine? He's got to be the barber who's always getting his customers and friends out of trouble.

Maryann Mercer said...

I sat on a jury once for a trial involving a defendent named...Precious Jewel. Honest. Also knew a woman named Crystal Springs.
Razor Shines? Tough PI. His dad was a barber in Chicago's old LaSalle Street Station. Razor still has the strop his old man used to sharpen the blades.

Pete Anderson said...

My teacher mom once had a pupil named Ima Violet Cloud. No joke.

Libby Hellmann said...

My best friend in 6th grade was Candy Hart. I've been too chicken to use her name in a book.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Oh Libby. You and I are now officially in a race to use Candy Hart in a story.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Take a look at psacake.com. It claims all the names are real.

Sara N Paretsky said...

Kevin, I think he should be trying to do something so dull and ordinary that people will forget his weird name--he's a CPA, or an endodontist--but then against his will he gets sucked into untoward events.

Sean Chercover said...

There was a kid in my high school named Larry Foreskin.

Poor bastard.

Sean Chercover said...

I was just reading a piece in today's Washinton Post, and they quoted the CFO of InfoUSA, who's name is...

Stormy Dean.

Maybe the fictional version of Razor Shines has a partner named Stormy Dean.

Jude Hardin said...

I knew a gynecologist named Alan Hyman. Of course his nickname was "Buster."

Kevin Guilfoile said...

My freshman year of college I lived next door to a football player named Robert Banks. He was a nice guy, but I will almost surely name a villain after him someday.

Sean's wife said...

Sean should talk. His list of prospective baby names for our son included: Plaxico, Seabiscuit, Click Click and my personal fave Capt'n.

Sean Chercover said...

Oh, I don't know...I think Cap'n Chercover has a nice ring to it.