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!