What’s in a Name?

On the first day of my freshman year of high school, I received a summons from the band teacher. I supposed that he wanted to see me because I had a year of clarinet and two years of bass clarinet under my belt. When I finally went to his office, he told me he wanted to see me because he just didn’t believe there actually was a student named ‘Gerhard Gehrke’ roaming the halls.


I declined his offer to switch to band as I needed the easy ‘A’ grade from German, which was only taught during the same period as band. I never got the ‘A’ or the easy.

Lesson here? Be careful what you name your children or curious teachers will call you out of one class just to poke you to check if you’re real. Also Mark Twain said “Life is too short to learn German.”

Naming characters has never been hard. I slap something down in a notebook and mull it over. Sometimes it sticks. Sometimes, too, an editor will say, “Did you check to see where else that name shows up?”

My editor for my novel did just that. Apparently Jeff Miller was a character from Lassie. I barely remember the show. I preferred the live-action Batman, Speed Racer, and other cartoons. I heard enough of the show since that I can make the educated guess that Jeff Miller was the kid that fell down the well and not the dog. Google confirmed this.


I wound up keeping the name Jeff, as I wanted something white bread. Next I wanted a surname that didn’t show up in Flipper, F-Troop, or any of a dozen shows that may have subliminally influenced me. I’ve heard of writers using the phone book. I used Google. I can’t explain how I wound up looking at turn-of-the-twentieth century city councilmen from Denmark, but I found the last name Abel, which I liked.

It held the meaning of someone who might prove a suitable protagonist without going as far as Neal Stephenson naming a character Hiro Protagonist, and yet also shared the designation of one of the first victims in literature.


Is it a memorable name? We’ll see. Maybe in the sequel, he’ll get summoned to the band teachers office. If he survives.

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