Guest: Marni Graff

Edith here, still a bit high from Bouchercon. I am delighted to welcome our friend Marni Graff back to the blog. She has an awesome new Nora Tierney English Mystery out, The Golden Hour. And she’s going to give away a signed copy to one commenter here today!

Take it away, Marni.goldenhour_cover_final_front

What’s in a Name?

One of my favorite parts of starting a new book is finding and assigning names for my characters as I create them. The way a name sounds, what it means, and even how often I’ll be typing a long name are all considerations. I vary ethnicity, and often choose surnames that are from the particular area in England where my American sleuth, Nora Tierney, will visit in this particular volume. I’ve even chosen names in homage to other authors or their characters. I do seem to have a thing about names.

My own name, Marni, is a nickname that stuck after the Hitchcock movie, reduced from Marnette, and the story behind that unusual name goes like this: my grandparents had decided to name their daughter Kathleen but needed a sturdy middle name to handle their German descent surname, Loschmidt. They were stumped and asked my godmother to come up with an unusual name. Martha wanted a bit of her name in there but thought “Martha” too old-fashioned for a baby born in the 1950s. She was reading Hugo’s Les Miserables at the time, and coined the name from the lovers, Marius and Cosette. In French it translates to “little sea” but while there was not a drop of French blood in my family on either side, they liked the Irish-French-German combination of names: Kathleen Marnette Loschmidt. Of course, my mother added to the mix by marrying an Italian, so my maiden name is Marnette Kathleen Travia!

Maybe my unusual name spurred my interest in names. In my new release, The Golden Hour, I have not one but two characters named after real people, a first for me. The first came after Bouchercon Raleigh, where I offered naming rights as a literacy auction prize. The winner asked me if I would name the character for her mother, who is a huge mystery fan. This character was supposed to make an appearance, nothing of significance, but this would be the perfect gift for her mother’s 80th birthday.

Yet as I asked Betty Kaplan’s daughter, Lisa, about her mom, I found out Betty had been one of the first pediatric nurse practitioners in California, and was also such a handy woman, she was on a first name basis with the Sears repair department, known for tackling her own appliances. I started to think of a way I could use Betty in my plot, and in the final book, my Betty Kaplan has all of those attributes, but is British and lives in Bath. She’s a retired nurse practitioner who volunteers at Bath’s Royal United Hospital in their Caring Angels program. How that fits into the plot I’ll leave for readers to find out. Happy Birthday, Betty!

The second character name request came from my son, Sean, a paramedic police officer who had lost a colleague on duty after a traffic stop cost Alex Thalmann his life. Sean and Alex had been in training together, where the former Marine had been a great motivator for the entire class. His loss was felt by our entire community, and I readily agreed to Sean’s request to honor Alex in the name of all of the men and women in uniform who put their lives in danger on a daily basis for us.

This time there was no question about creating a character for the British Alex Thalmann. In The Golden Hour, he’s the Somerset and Avon Constabulary detective leading the Bath case that involves Nora and Declan and affects their little family and their future. Alex’s mom is so pleased her son has been given a huge promotion and is immortalized on those pages. It was an easy tribute to make that gave her something to smile about for a change. We’ll miss you, Alex.

Readers: Has your name ever been used in someone’s book? And for writers, how do you go about choosing your character names?

Remember, Marni is going to give away a signed copy to one commenter here today!

MKGHdshotMarni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. The Blue Virgin introduces . Newly published is The Golden Hour, with Nora, an American writer living in Oxford, solving crimes in Bath. Graff’s new Manhattan series, Death Unscripted, features nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio. Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, and writes crime book reviews at She is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press and a member of Sisters in Crime and the NC Writers Network. All of Graff’s books are available wherever books are sold.

34 Thoughts

  1. I’ve never had a character in a book named for me, although I think it would be fun!

  2. Marni, I am one of those readers that pays attention to character names and I think it is great to name characters after real people. Thank you for the back stories about your real people based characters. I look forward to reading your books. A friend recommended Charles Todd’s mysteries to me and I am on the second Bess Crawford Mystery at the moment, finding Bess to be one of my favorite characters of all time. Funny how we gravitate toward certain characters and their names are IMPORTANT!

  3. I love seeing different & unusual names in books. This sounds like an exciting series to read.

  4. Such a fun blog post, Marni! 😊

    As far as I know my name hasn’t been used in a book because it is my name.

    A lot of times my character’s names pop into my head right along with the character. Like the president of an anthropological society in my upcoming book, when I thought of him I thought, “Dr. Charles A. Lindbergh” and then had my egotistical victim always teasing Charles about his name.

    I’ve also named characters after friends that inspired them, though often using names that mean the same thing as theirs but in a different language.

    Sometimes I’ve even flopped open the white pages phone book and stuck my finger on a page.

  5. Unfortunately not BUT I’ve have interesting stories about last names. 🙂 My Grandfather came from Austria/Hungary. When he came to the states his name sounded very much like cuss words and he ended up changing his name to my Grandmother’s Mother’s maiden name. Why he picked that name I don’t know but it also is a very strange name which lead to me being called “cow-lick” all my growing up years. When I married I didn’t get Smith or Jones as a last name but I did end up with a plain sounding, easy to spell last name which was great with me. 🙂 Funny thing is we named our daughter Jenet. Now my only explanation is that we weren’t Italian and didn’t need all the extra letters in the normal spelling of Jeannette. LOL I just thought it was a neat way of spelling it.

  6. I’ve never had a character named after me (well, a critique partner used my maiden name in a book – does that count?).

    Sometimes my characters choose their names. In my current WIP I needed names for a particular ethnic background, so I spent a lot of time on the internet researching. And quite often a character’s name will change throughout the lifecycle of the book for one reason or another.

    1. Liz, I’ve done that, too, changed a name that ended up not suiting the character as they were written.

  7. I enjoy finding new authors and information about their books. It always amazes me to see their choice for character names. I am sure those of child bearing age might find these names helpful when naming their child. Thank you for providing an introduction to Marni Graff and her book on your blog.

  8. Welcome back, Marni! I love the story of your name! I have a hard time naming characters and often am near the end of book having used “blank” or “place” until I come up with the right one. I do use the names of friends in various combinations to name characters. Carol Carson, Stella Wild, Nancy Elder, and Gennie (the Jawbreaker) Elder are all named after sorority sisters.

  9. Welcome to the Wicked Cozys, Marni. I am so impressed that you name characters as they appear on the page. Sometimes I do, but equally often I play with combination after combination until I find the right one–often to the point where I can’t even use Find and Replace to clean up my mess.

  10. I’ve never had a character named specifically for me, but I always find it a little weird reading about “Ginny”. I love when a name reflects a person’s characteristics.

  11. Wow, your maiden name is really beautiful!! I’ve known two people named Marni. One in High School, and a former workmate. I always thought it was unique.
    My name is so common!! Interestingly I’ve never seen it in any books I’ve read that I can recall. But the number of times I see or hear it elsewhere certainly makes up for that. Sheesh!

    I really love your book’s cover. ( :

    1. Thank you! I have that color theme going on that makes them distinctive and enjoy figuring out what the next color and title will be!

      I think Laurie is lovely!

  12. My name has shown up in several books. A couple of times I knew about it, but others it was a complete surprise. The most recent is Death of a Toy Soldier by Barbara Early, where I have a cameo.

  13. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds, Marni! I love hearing about how others name characters! Mine usually name themselves promptly. The first names almost always show up very soon after I think of a character but sometimes the last names are a bit slower. For me, I think the names spring from character and then then character grows because of the name. Mnny times I have a character name in mind well before the books ever start to jell. That has happened for each of my protagonists. When I have their name pop into my head I know a book is workign its way to the surface. Magic!

  14. My own name has never appeared in a book, but that would be fun. 🙂
    Naming Charlie Kerrian in my own work was tricky. I had the idea of him as a character for years before I wrote his first word. I even did a bit of research to find the right ethnicity, etc. I could not find a single reference to any other literary character with his original name until after I had written about half of the (unpublished) novel. During one week, the name popped up on two long running TV shows. Not wanting to be accused of theft of intellectual property, I had to change Charlie’s last name to Kerrian, then started mentioning him all over the internet so that I could ‘own’ him. Now, if you google him, he is associated with my name, so mission accomplished. 🙂

  15. I have or at least I tried to read it. Unfortunately it was in audiobook format & every time the narrator said the character’s name (which was a lot) I felt as if someone was calling my name. Very distracting & so I had trouble getting into the story & didn’t finish it. Perhaps if the character had another name I would have been able to finish it.

  16. I’ve never been named in a book before. I recently read something of CJ Box and recognized a couple of names from my community, one that was not a very nice character. I don’t know if that was by accident or…
    Myself as a new writer had a hard time naming my main character and I wondered if that meant I hadn’t delved far enough into who she actually was or thought about her thoroughly.

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