Character Names Interview with Janet Chester Bly by Connie Sue Larson
How do you choose character names for your novels, such as in the Trails of Reba Cahill Series?
In choosing character names, I knew the main female character for my first solo fiction series would be a cowgirl who worked on an Idaho ranch and would have red hair. The image that kept popping into my head was country singer Reba McEntire. For a long time, I fought calling her Reba, but my protagonist kept telling me that was her name. She also insisted her middle name was Mae and that only a few special people were allowed to call her “Reba Mae.” The Cahill last name evolved from a number of different choices over the years and finally stuck. I realized Cahill was also of Scottish descent, which will fit nicely into the Book 3 story line. Plus, it came from a John Wayne movie character too. J.D. Cahill, U.S. Marshal: “just the sound of his name makes bad guys stop in their tracks.”
In addition, in choosing character names a writer can be led to other inspirations for the story. Reba McEntire’s song, “The Last One To Know” fits so perfectly my Reba’s heartache from the betrayal and loss of her high school sweetheart, Tim Runcie, mentioned in Book 1, Wind in the Wires. The ranch house in this Reba McEntire video also is an uncanny replica of the Cahill Ranch house in Road’s End, Idaho where Reba Cahill and her grandmother Pearl live.
Have you ever changed character names because they didn’t seem to fit the person?
Not exactly. But names can be changed because they cause unneeded confusion with other characters, especially if there are several with names starting with the same letter or very similar otherwise. In choosing character names then rethinking, I recently changed the name of the murder victim in the contemporary western mystery Book 2 Down Squash Blossom Road from David Manatos to Daemon Manatos. 1) I think it sticks out on the page better, 2) a baby on a gravestone had the name David already, 3) it sounds a bit more Greek to me, which he is.
P.S. I loved how creative hubby Steve was with choosing character names (many fans mentioned it too). He had a special knack that nailed the character’s personality, traits, history, looks, everything. I can’t begin to duplicate that abilitiy. For instance, when my three sons and I worked to finish his last novel with a four-month deadline, he left us with 10% of the story started, a one-page synopsis, and two pages of character names. It’s amazing how those character names helped a whole bunch in trying to determine where he was going with the story and what sorts of scenes to develop. And there were a few left over that I hope to use sometime.