by Gayle Lynds
In my espionage novel The Book of Spies, Eva Blake’s name was originally Ann Blake. This may seem like a small change for an author to make, but for me, it made all the difference. In the story, Ann was a pretty woman with red hair and a sunny disposition who was a top curator at the celebrated Getty Museum in Los Angeles. “Ann Blake” works, right? She sounds solid, reliable, unpretentious.
But then Ann got into trouble. The result was her husband was killed — had she really been responsible? Apparently, yes, and Ann was sent to prison. She changed, grew quiet, watchful, and strong. Then in a couple of years she had a lucky break. The CIA needed her expertise to help find the lost Library of Gold. When she left prison, she was no longer sunny. She was complex, and all of a sudden I couldn’t write about her anymore. She didn’t come alive on the page. She kept sliding back to my original creation. The book stopped working.
These are the moments when writers resort to long walks, eat cartons of ice cream, drink a lot of wine, phone friends to catch up after five years of no communication. These are the times that try a writer’s soul. . . .
“Ann Blake” sucked, and I didn’t know why.
The truth was, I didn’t know her anymore.
In real life, our names are given to us. Sometimes we like them, and sometimes we don’t. If we dislike them enough, we can change them. If we marry, sometimes we incorporate our spouse’s name into ours, and that can alter or clarify the idea of us as individuals. Choices and opportunities help us to forge our identities.
And that was true of characters in books. . . .
Ah-ha! Ann Blake needed a new name!
After trying many, I finally settled on keeping her last name, but changing the first to “Eva.” In a way, Eva Blake was brand-new when she left prison and started on her mission for the CIA, and her altered name gave her (or was it me?) the flexibility and energy to discover who she really was.
I resumed working, and at a feverish speed. Eva drove the story and beckoned me on as she continued to take hold until at the end of the book she surprised me by choosing a life that hadn’t occurred to me. But then, it was her life. Brava, Eva!
Many writers relate to characters strongly through their names. I’ve spent days finding just the right one, have finished entire novels and gone back and changed others until they rang true. And it’s always worth it. But then, that’s who I am.
How do names affect you? Please tell!