Sunday, April 21, 2013

How Sammy Keyes Got Her Name

In response to a question posed a few weeks ago, tonight I make my confession about character names.

The big one first: Why 'Sammy Keyes'?

The 'Sammy' is hard to pin down. When I was a little girl there was a show on TV called Bewitched that I just loved. The (lovely, well-intentioned) witch named Samantha was always getting into trouble with her mortal husband. She's the only "Samantha" I can remember, so I like to think she sort of twitched her nose my way (her method of casting spells) regarding the name.

I didn't make the connection between Samantha Keyes and Samantha Stephens (the witch) until years into the book series, when people kept asking me why I'd picked the name Samantha. And I don't think I'd have chosen that name if there hadn't been the (very cool, in my opinion) nickname Sammy to be derived from it. "Sammy" just seemed to fit my character.

The 'Keyes' part is easy: When I taught high school I had a boy in my 4th period computer science class with that last name, and I lifted it out of my gradebook one early morning while searching for a name. 'Keyes' sounded great with Sammy or Samantha, and it was a perfect name for a sleuth. (I know there's an alternate pronunciation, but my student pronounced his last name with the long 'e' sound, so that's how I say Sammy's last name.)

Which brings us to other names in the series. A lot of them came out of my gradebook. I will share a hard-won nugget of knowledge with you: There are no good names in the phonebook. There are no good names in 10,000 Names for Baby. (Not one!) But there are great names in a teacher's gradebook. And having 6 classes to choose from, well, I had the luxury of snagging a first name from (say) first period and matching it with a last name from (say) fifth period. Almost all the names in the first four Sammy Keyes books are hybrids of names out of my gradebook(s).

Regular readers here already know that I had written the first four Sammy Keyes books before they got picked up by Knopf. And having no experience in what it meant to have an actual book out there, I gave no thought to my name selection methods coming back to bite me. But when the books started coming out, students I'd had as freshmen were popping into my classroom as seniors going, "Hey! Am I Tenille?" "Hey! Am I Monet?" And I'd swallow hard and go, What? No! Are you kidding me?

After I stopped teaching, I tried the phonebook and 10,000 Names For Baby again, but still, there were no good names. (Not one!) So I graduated from gradebooks to yearbooks. (I found great names in my sons' yearbooks.)

While we're on the subject of names...there is one name in the last Sammy Keyes book that will not come out of a gradebook or a yearbook, or the phonebook (or 10,000 Names for Baby). We're going to do a contest. I'll let you know as things develop, but we thought it would be a fun thing to do for Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye. We're going to have to figure out just what the contest will be soon, but it will be a Random House run event, so not only here at the blog. (You know I'll keep you posted here, but also remember to check in at the Sammy Keyes FaceBook page.)

Meanwhile, share how you got your name--are you named after someone? (My mom swears she didn't make mine up, but I'm pretty sure it was also not in 10,000 Names For Baby.)

Thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

24 comments:

Jessica said...

My name was the second most common girls' name the year I was born (after the similar-sounding Jennifer, which I get called a lot), but my parents had no idea it was popular at the time. They actually named me after my Polish-American grandmother, whose given name was Ceslava (pronounced sort of like "SESH-wah-vuh" only more Polish-sounding), although she legally changed it to Jessie (because that's what Ceslava means in Polish).

But how did a kid in New York ended up with a name like Ceslava in the first place? There was a spinster aunt who owned a bakery in Warsaw, who promised that any relative named after her would inherit a share in the bakery. So my grandmother and several cousins were saddled with the name Ceslava. And then WWII happened, and the factory was destroyed, and they were never able to find out what happened to the original Ceslava because of the Iron Curtain. And yet here I am, nearly 70 years later, (indirectly) named after her, so her legacy lives on.

In the novel I'm slowly writing, I used a combination of "most common baby names" for the years the characters were born and names of kids from my youth group/Sunday school classes (but I'll be more careful about this going forward! thanks for the warning). I picked one last name from the phone book, but I was looking for a name with a certain first syllable, which narrowed down the search. I'm being particularly careful not to pick family names or names of former classmates (since some scenes are adaptations of things that happened to me as a child).

Kylie said...

A roll book is a genius way to come up with names. I use baby websites when in need for a characters name, yet I always end up using the name from someone I know and usually switch the last name. I will have to start looking around in my yearbook next time I need a name.

When my mom was pregnant with me, her and my dad's planned name for me was Rebecca Lynn. This name was after the song Rebecca Lynn. When I was born they decided that that name did not fit, so they decided on Kylie Marie. My middle name is simple to figure out where that came from, it was my mom's middle name.
My first name came 80's pop singer Kylie Monique. I am told that she was a one-hit wonder. This is the first that I heard about being named after her.

The contest sounds like a lot of fun! I can't wait to see what it is! I have decided that I am going to have a terrible life in August through October this year because so many books come out at that time that it is going to end me.


Kylie

Jessica said...

I hate that you can't edit mistakes in comments. Ah, well... the meaning's still clear.

Leslie said...

I have a lot of cousins (75 or so). Back when I was writing regularly (and mostly Harry Potter fanfiction, because that was my jam) I named several of my original characters after cousins. They'll never know. Now that I'm getting back into writing (slowly) and toying with NOT just writing fanfiction, I'll have to think of other name sources.

My name was most popular in the 1960's, which makes sense because I am named after my aunt born in that decade. My dad was very close to her, but she died when she was 12, so I've never met her.

Yusa said...

Well my namesake is complicated but basically it came out of a book of true people and they thought my name was unique so yeah

Areebah Pervez said...

my name Areebah was found on the computer. while it may sound Spanish, its not. I'm Muslim, so my parents were searching names on the computer and came across Areebah. Areebah actually means witty and smart in Arabic. my last name may also sound Spanish, but it was my dad's middle name.and it weirdly means persian male?. yikes.

Mel said...

When I used to write all I used were baby name websites. I hated it. It took forever to sort through the pages and pages of names, some impossible to pronouce and just so far from what I was looking for.

I actually think I cannot pronounce the name of some of my past characters in a book I tried writing when I was still in high school. Huh.

I'm impressed that you used the roll book. I would remember what each kid did over the years and not want to use the names. Sammy is still the best name out there. If I ever write again, or even have a child, that is a go to name for me.

See ya Sunday!

RowAn said...

My parents called me Rowan partly because they thought it was an unusual name. Then in kindergarten there was a girl called Rowen (spelled differently). She went into the class ahead of me--which also had a GUY named Rowan! We had three Rowa(e)ns in two grades. Now the girl Rowen and I go to the same high school and everyone spells my name wrong.
My class also had two girls named Jordan and two guys named Jack (one spelled it Jak), and we only had 21 people.

Mostly when I'm writing a character's name will just pop into my head, or I pick a name that sounds good for the character and seems to fit them. A lot of the time the name comes to me with the character, but sometimes I have to change it because it's not quite right the first time. I take Latin, so I use my textbook to find weird villain names.

Millers said...

Oh! I love knowing the origin of names!

My sisters and I all have names with JA and MI- the first two letters of our parents' names, Jaime and Milrose.
So we're called Jamie, Jazmine and Jamille (me!) and since I'm the youngest most of my teachers were also those my sisters had, so the teachers often mix up my name with theirs hahaha.
I could never find my name on those souvenir cups and my name doesn't actually mean anything.

Millers said...

Also I love the names you chose for the characters, they all seem so fitting; that's why I was pretty mad upon discovering that the names were changed in French-
Sarah Kay, Hazel Acosta, Linda Kay (for Lady Lana)...
That and they said she lived in New York in these translated versions! WHYYYY

gabrielle said...

That's very interesting how you come up with your chacters names,and thanks for answering my question! :)
I don't know where my name came from,my mom originally wanted to name me Josephine because my dads name is joe,so she thought it would be cute,but I'm glad she named me Gabrielle,and my middle name is the same middle name as one of my Aunts.




Gabrielle

gabrielle said...

And I can't wait for the contest! :D

Isabel said...

Well first of all, Wendelin, I checked and your name isn't in 1000 names for baby for sure.
So how I got my name...Let's see...I just asked my mom...and she told me she...searched it up on the Internet. Wow...epic.
While my brothers was picked by my grandma (dad's mom). He's lucky...
I feel...awkward.
Anyways, can't wait till the contest...

Kathy said...

Dear Wendelin, I am not sure how to contact you, but I want to thank you for The Running Dream. I usually pre-read what my 4th grader is allowed to read and I was thrilled that your book was so appropriate. The book is wonderful in so many ways, but thank you for writing a book that takes place in a high school setting without adding any inappropriate material. It is so unnecessary in most books and ruins many others that would otherwise be so great. As a mom, I really, really appreciate this.

Yusa said...

Totally agree with Kathy here not enough appropriate books around here that are really good! Thats why this is my favorite series :) for ALL ages

Kylie said...

So apparently I wasn't named after the 80's so singer Kylie monigue, but rather they heard her name and liked it. So I wasn't name after her, but her name is where yet got mine.

This has also gotten me to look up the history of my name. Kylie is an Australian boomerang. There are also some really weird ways of spelling my name.


Karen said...

It’s so fun to hear all these name stories!

My mother wanted my name to be short (her name never fits on forms), easy to spell and write (it took her forever to learn to write it in first grade, and let’s not even get into how many alter egos she would have if each misspelled envelope was to a different person), and have initials that didn’t mean anything. My father had known several women named Karen, all of whom were nice people. VoilĂ .

@ French Sammy Keyes set in NYC:
I’m trying to imagine a New York Town Center Mall surrounded by parking lots.
. . .
Does. Not. Compute.

@Kylie: Terrible in the best way possible, right? ;)

@Wendelin: My dentist is named Wendy. I assumed Wendelin was the name Wendy was derived from, but Chambers (dictionary) says Wendy is “an invention of J. M. Barrie’s” (from Peter Pan), and has nothing to say on Wendelin.

It does have wend, meaning, amongst other similar definitions, v.t. to turn, direct one’s course (obs.); -- v.i. to make one’s way (arch.; also fig.); -- pa.t. and pa.p. wended, (obs.) went (now used as pa.t. of go) ... so Wendelin sounds kind of like you could be wendelin’ around town, pickin’ up groceries and goin’ to the library for some new (or old favorite) books. Which is probably not how you got your name, but it would be my new favorite word to describe making my way around, if I hadn’t just half made it up.

Karen said...

Oh, speaking of names! (And Chambers.) Last week I was perusing the K section of the dictionary--I’d just done one of those group-introduction games where you say your name and a food you like that starts with the same letter (after repeating everyone who already went), and the only food I could think of was kiwi, and I thought, Oh, come on. There’s got to be more than that.

So I was perusing the K section of the dictionary, looking for foods, when I noticed this definition:
Kensington, adj. (of person) interested exclusively in an artifical city life and in material values. [from part of a London borough.]
(Chambers English Dictionary, seventh edition, (c)1988)

I would never have noticed if it weren’t for Wendelin's crazy millionaires. ;)

Selica Leone said...

Mine is Selica, which is actually named after a friend's of hers. I have never met this friend. But apparently my mother loved the name as a little girl, and apparently it stuck with her.

coolcookiepop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
coolcookiepop said...

I know this is not, in any way related to the post, but i just want to ask is there any possibility you'll make book 2 of Flipped, please? I wanted to continue watching and reading their story. :) Thank you and God bless! :)

rcsun said...

I've got 2 stories to how my dad named me. The first story (one that I believed for a long time) is that my dad flipped through a dictionary until he found a word he thought would be a good name. The second story (one that my dad claims is the true story) is that my dad came out of the hospital after visiting my mom and saw a rainbow in the sky and thus decided to name me Rainbow.

What is quite interesting about my name is that my last name is Sun. The last name Sun is quite common in China and Taiwan. With the first name Rainbow and the last name Sun, my name is quite an interesting combination... The names of siblings are equally interesting: Pearl, Camellia, and Zephyr. Together, we are known as the Sun Sisters!

(In a dinner event, my dad told guests that he originally thought to name me China until a nurse told him that I would be made fun of with a name like that. My dad was born in Taiwan and loves the Chinese culture.)

rcsun said...

I've got 2 stories to how my dad named me. The first story (one that I believed for a long time) is that my dad flipped through a dictionary until he found a word he thought would be a good name. The second story (one that my dad claims is the true story) is that my dad came out of the hospital after visiting my mom and saw a rainbow in the sky and thus decided to name me Rainbow.

What is quite interesting about my name is that my last name is Sun. The last name Sun is quite common in China and Taiwan. With the first name Rainbow and the last name Sun, my name is quite an interesting combination... The names of siblings are equally interesting: Pearl, Camellia, and Zephyr. Together, we are known as the Sun Sisters!

(In a dinner event, my dad told guests that he originally thought to name me China until a nurse told him that I would be made fun of with a name like that. My dad was born in Taiwan and loves the Chinese culture.)

Lori Huntley said...

Wendelin,

I am also a teacher, and I agree, our grade books provide great names. I heard, though, that you chose Lucinda Huntley (my last name), from an ancestor. Is this true?

Thank you,
Lori Huntley