What’s in a name? This is the 25th anniversary of the restoration of the name of Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703. For 67 years, the city was known as Leningrad in honor of the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir I. Lenin. At the beginning of WWI the city was named Petrograd and became Leningrad in 1924. Many countries and cities have undergone name changes in my lifetime. In fiction, naming places is hard; naming people a bit easier. Sometimes I set a novel in a real city, like Chicago (Courting Kathleen Hannigan, Warming Up, Saluting the Sun) and sometimes I make up a name (Stirling, Wisconsin, in ONE FOR THE ARK) and sometimes I use a real town name (it’s hard not to) and put it in a different state, only to be told by an alert reading that Prairie du Chien (Saluting the Sun) is not in Iowa but in Wisconsin. I knew there was one in Wisconsin, so I thought I was fictionalizing by putting it in Iowa, not making a mistake.
Picking character names is fun; you just know whether someone looks like a Ulysses or not. They can also suggest something about the character, as Thomas in ONE FOR THE ARK is named to suggest “doubting Thomas,” the apostle who wanted to see in order to believe. You’ll see why in the novel, which is filled with the unexpected as well as miracles. Tricky business, this writing.