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?