Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Where'd You Get a Name Like That?

My WWII series Promise For Tomorrow features large casts of characters in all three books, so I had to come up with lots of names. In the first book, Friends & Enemies, the main female character lives in Germany. That meant I needed German given names and surnames. The last names were easy. With three quarters of German ancestry, I had plenty of selections to pick from my family tree.
Of the six main Promise characters, only Jennie Lindquist in No Neutral Ground does not have one of my family names. She required a Swedish surname, and I have no Swedish ancestry.
Cemeteries are a good place for me to find era-appropriate given names. I first spelled Jennie’s name with a –y, but changed it after seeing the –ie on tombstones. For all the airmen at Ridgewell Air Base, a base roster offered plenty of WWII possibilities, like Herb, Harold, Willard, Homer, and Clyde.
Deciding on names I like is important for the main characters, because I’ll be living with them for at least a year as the writing is in progress, and beyond once the book is published.
Some names are strictly for fun. I didn’t tell a friend I’d used her maiden name in No Neutral Ground, or her married name in Soar Like Eagles. When my next book, Wheresoever They May Be, releases next week, she’ll find another surprise.

Frank Savage of TV's 12 O'Clock High. 

Wheresoever is unique in that I didn’t use family names. Instead, I turned to television. The 1960s TV series, 12 O’Clock High, featured B-17s and was a big help when I wrote my series. The episode “Decoy” showed a ditching and how the Gibson Girl radio was used to signal for help. The first base commander was Frank Savage, followed by Joe Gallagher. My two main male characters in Wheresoever are Frank Swanson and Joe Gallagher.
The chaplain in the Promise For Tomorrow series is Kyle Hogan. Yes, he got his name from Hogan’s Heroes. I’ve also used Newkirk from that show, but don’t remember which book. That’s the problem with casts of dozens.
In my work in progress, I wanted a name I’d easily remember for the main character’s boss. A former boss of mine is named Marley S. The fictional boss is Martin Sopard. The surname is my boss’ name with a slight alteration.

For two Irishmen, I scrolled through an Irish names website and found Burke and Caffrey. Can you guess the TV show that prompted me to combine those names?


  1. I know what you mean about finding names. In my first book "Guide Me Home", I used lots of relatives who lived long ago, including my grandmother's name. My aunt thought it was fun reading the book with so many relatives names in it. At least it was believable - German people living in Wisconsin in the 1920s and 30s.

  2. I've used family names too, but I also own a couple of high school year books from the WWII years, and they have been quite helpful in providing names. Cemeteries are a good source for me as well as a couple of websites. I love the idea of using TV shows. Did you get Burke and Caffrey from the show White Collar?

  3. Hi Terri,
    When I go through our family genealogy, I'm always intrigued by the names. Thanks for sharing!