Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's in a Name?

Here's an article I've been meaning to write for awhile: Where the characters in Our World got their names.

When I joined the project, the four main characters - Jillian Whitecross, Peter Whitecross, Alexis Wilder and Art Canfield - all had first names, and only Art lacked a last name. All the other characters were named by me, and so they all bear my markings on one way or another.

The last name Canfield actually came from a book I read, called Under a Green Sky, in which author Peter Ward describes an Earth violently different from our own. This Earth is far hotter than our own, and as presented in the narrative as both a kind of Ghost of Christmas Past and Ghost of Christmas Future - what may come to pass if the atmosphere continues to warm. One of the bizarre side effects of a warmer Earth in the past (and future?) is the depletion of oxygen in the world's oceans. Without oxygen, the aerated ocean we know and love gives way to a "Canfield ocean" populated by anaerobic bacteria. The hydrogen sulfide they produce would, according to the book, lead to the green sky mentioned in its title.

When I was reading this, in the spring or summer of 2010, I was still hammering out the details for the first plot arc in Our World, in which we meet Art's uncle Art, the realtor. And suddenly a very oblique joke clicked together in my head: Canfield Ocean Estates.

Don't worry; I never expected anybody to get that; the concept of the Canfield ocean isn't particularly well-known. In fact, it's so obscure that after "Canfield Ocean Estates" went up we actually began getting hits on it from Google. It is, at least for now, on the first page of Google results for the phrase "Canfield ocean." Go figure.

Hank was originally based on a very quiet guy I worked with in 2009 named Henry (hence the name relation; I had to keep stopping myself from calling Henry Hank). Henry, who also worked in the loading bay of a department store, didn't have that undertone of got-to-get-it-done grimness Hank does. I did have a later coworker at a different job who did, though. His name was... Frank. That, at least, is a coincidence. I think.

Lisa and Clyde, Jill's coworkers, were named separately, though I now realize there's a sort of "Bonnie and Clyde" vibe to them. Lisa was named because "Lisa" seemed like a good name, but Clyde was named "Clyde" because I was playing a lot of Pac Man around the time I needed a name for Jill's other coworker. Kuurion picked out last names for them when he did "Meet the Metallurgist," though.

Milo Dedicoat, an apparent prisoner of whatever organization once had custody of Jill, is actually named after a character of the same name in a screenplay I wrote in 2005 called High Panache. (I tried to have my fellow college students make it into a movie that same year, after writing the entire thing during the summer. It almost happened.) His odd last name has its own origin story: My father had found a page in some company report containing a list of ranking company officers, all of whom had really weird last names. Knowing I was a writer, he gave me the page to use for characters. Several of the odd names worked their way into the script at one point or another, but the only one that ended up staying was "Dedicoat" as the last name of the protagonist.

And, speaking of Milo, we conclude with the nigh-unpleasable Trilby Dobler, whom he is shown delivering orders to at the beginning of chapter 2. Her name is what happens when you pencil in a name as a placeholder and become attached to it without knowing. Her name comes from an awesomely bad and spectacularly obscure movie called Lords of the Deep, which is set on the ocean floor in the dystopian future. It features, among other terrible caricatures, Commander Dobler and a control computer called Trilby. I had settled on "Trilby" before "Dobler," but after saying them together long enough it stuck.

That's not all of the names, but those are the ones that have backstories. And there you have it! Get off my lawn.

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