Inside Writing: What’s in a name?


It’s all Wylie’s fault.

If you’ve been following the Walter saga, you understand the history here, such as it is. The short version goes like this: Wylie was musing about names.

Now, she’s got me doing it, too.

Only, where she was wrestling with first names, my issues lie with last names. This has always been a thing with me, a detail I never overly cared about. I kid you not; I dated guys whose last name remained a total mystery to me even after we broke up. Makes you understand why none of them lasted more than three weeks (although the Tour Manager’s early intrusion into my life deserves most of the blame for that).

Surnames are something we’re born into, maybe even more than a first name. After all, our parents sometimes anguish over first names. They fight. Hopefully, they don’t come to blows and hopefully, they don’t name their child after the first thing they see (Plexiglass, anyone? Know who was named for Plexiglass?) But a surname… forget it. We girls are sometimes lucky, in that if we like our husband’s name, we can take it and shuck off our old name. But the guys, by and large, are stuck. As are we all, at least until we’re 18 and can face a judge and explain why Heffenshitzel isn’t such a great surname.

(This is where I point out the irony that the band ShapeShifter was named for Trevor’s surname — Wolff. And that I named Trevor before a friend, whose maiden name was Wolfe, named her son Trevor.)

So, of course, when Wylie asked about rock stars named Walter, I went with what she’d given me — a rock star named Walter. It didn’t dawn on me until after I’d posted the first Thursday Thirteen list that Walter had no surname.

Fortunately for me, this realization came at one of my favorite times for letting my mind wander: 4:30 in the morning, which seems to be my latest time to wake up for a potty break during the night. And which seems to be when I’ve been doing some really cool envisioning of scenes that get written out over the following few days.

Even more fortunately, Walter’s surname popped into my head immediately. Cicewski. Pronounced “Chi-Chev-ski.” You can tell a bit about the area in which I live if that name and pronunciation came together so easily.

So Walter’s got a surname. He’s got an outtake featuring a few familiar faces, too, but not for a few days yet. Sheesh. I’m still trying to get you guys more Pam, who didn’t have a surname for years.

She was just fine. Never got cranky about it. So why did Walter?

It’s all about character, huh?

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  1. bunnygirl

    April 22, 2007 8:38 pm

    Well, the nice thing about fiction is that you don’t always need a surname. I know I don’t, especially if the story is set in a modern, casual time like ours. Victorian times, when a man needed special permission to call a woman by her first name, is a different matter, of course.BR/BR/A question about Walter, though. His surname fits, but it’s not a mega-star type of name. Did he have a different name picked out at one time, in case he hit it big?

  2. Susan Helene Gottfried

    April 22, 2007 9:46 pm

    He started off as “Chee-Chev,” then sorta like John Cougar, gradually went back to the real thing. BR/BR/Good question!

  3. Wylie Kinson

    April 22, 2007 10:15 pm

    Susan — We must be drinking from the same well. As I was reading, my mind was flipping through it’s virtual name rolodex and I was thinking – Zahremski (Walter Zee). BR/How did we both come up with Polish names? HOW??!!BR/I love the one you chose, btw. It fits PERFECTLY!BR/Can’t wait to read more about our Walter (I feel like a proud parent! Well,… at least a sperm donor :))

  4. Susan Helene Gottfried

    April 22, 2007 10:18 pm

    Oh, geez. Wylie-the-sperm-donor. TOO FUNNY!!! BR/BR/And how about that whole Polish thing? That’s really cool. Great minds, huh?

  5. scrappintwinmom

    April 22, 2007 11:34 pm

    I (happily) traded in my long Irish surname for a cute little Polish surname. My dad tried to talk me out of it – since he only had two daughters, the name will die with him. Michele says hi!

  6. Sanni

    April 23, 2007 9:22 am

    Walter Cicewski – sounds well-fitting to me. Much better than Plexiglas Heffenshitzel =)BR/BR/In Germany the guys are not stucked to their surnames anymore. They can decide to take their brides name if they like to… or a double-barraled surname…

  7. karen!

    April 23, 2007 9:31 am

    I’m loving this thread about Walter.

  8. L^2

    April 23, 2007 10:57 am

    That’s a great surname for Walter. It’s much more genuine sounding than John Mellencamp’s “Cougar”. BR/BR/If I ever trade in my surname, I probably won’t be “L-Squared” anymore. And that fact just might have some weight in the decision. :-)BR/BR/Anyway, I’m looking forward to learning more about this new character. Actually, I think I still need to catch up on a few of the old ones too.

  9. Lindsey

    April 23, 2007 12:00 pm

    I’ve been missing so much around here! Congratulations on all the nominations–I’ll be voting when if my registration ever comes through. :S

  10. Rene

    April 23, 2007 1:44 pm

    Cool, I pronounced Walter’s surname correctly in my head.BR/BR/I don’t really think about names too much when I write. I write about preternatural creatures, so I try to name them with names that flow with the particular folklore they orginated from i.e. Celtic.BR/BR/BTW, I do have RSS enabled but I think there is a problem because of my blog. I’m not knowledgeable to figure it out although I know it does work with some feed burners like bloglines.

  11. Thomma Lyn

    April 23, 2007 7:25 pm

    Great last name for Walter — yup, Cicewski fits him like a glove. And that’s the blasted thing about surnames for our characters, isn’t it — the first names are crucial, yes, but then the surnames must have that “just-right Iclick/I” with the first names. BR/BR/I hear ya about 4:30 a.m. potty breaks, too! That’s a common time for me to awaken with all kinds of things running through my head. I’ve gotten good at scribbling on my notepad in the dark so I don’t have to turn on the light and wake up hubby! ;-D

  12. cheesygiraffe

    April 23, 2007 9:55 pm

    Cicewski? Is that Polish? It reminds me of a book I read not very long ago. Similiar last name and no one could pronouce it. The dude was constantly telling everyone how to pronouce it.

  13. Andrew

    April 24, 2007 10:10 am

    I’m pretty sure that’s Polish!! Cicewski, that’s a nice name. It couldn’t have popped into your head without any kind of prior thinking, right? How exactly did you think of it?

  14. Susan Helene Gottfried

    April 24, 2007 10:46 am

    No clue, Andrew. I just woke up at 4:30 in the morning and realized that was his name. Maybe I’d heard it on the late news?

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