Guest Post: Jim Jackson

Readers often ask how authors come up with character names. Jim Jackson, author of the Seamus McCree mysteries, shares his process today.

How Seamus and His Family Got Their Names

Empty Promises 450x675When I considered the series characters that stood out in my mind, they had names I remembered. I wasn’t sure whether I remembered the name just because I enjoyed reading about the character or whether the name itself was part of the attraction.

Michael Connolly created Hieronymus “Harry” Bosh. Who would name their child Hieronymus, and what would tagging a kid with that moniker do to him growing up?

How about Sara Paretsky’s Victoria Iphigenia “Vic or VI” Warshawski? You can see why she might want to be called Vic, especially when she’s a former cop and current private detective.

I knew that when creating a series character, you are creating something of an alter ego. The Irish equivalent to James is Seamus, a name with a certain ring to it, although I quickly discovered many in the US don’t realize it’s pronounced “Shay-mus.” That connection might have been enough on its own, but I loved the idea that my amateur-sleuth protagonist would have a name that is the homonym “shamus,” meaning a private detective. Perfect.

I wanted Seamus to have a good Irish surname, but in a time of Google, I wanted my creation to pop up high in searches. I checked uncommon Irish surnames and settled on McCree. That idea worked well. Now he needed a middle name. Many parents, including mine, use the mother’s maiden name for their child’s given middle name. I figured I’d follow that practice for Seamus, and finally settled on Anselm—a “well-known” Benedictine monk and scholar who was the archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109.

I am the seventh James Jackson in a row, but most of us have different middle names. And since there can be three James Jacksons living at a time, alternate generations go by their middle name. I applied that same naming mechanism to the McCrees. Seamus’s father (Seamus Gaidren McCree) and his son (Seamus Patrick “Paddy” McCree) both go by their middle names.

I don’t recall how I came up with Gaidren. I chose Paddy because it or “Mick” is the name others derogatively give to the Irish. I hoped that by attaching it to a strong character it might chip away one small bit of prejudice. It also proved useful because Seamus is the only one who calls his son Paddy; to everyone else he is Patrick. In the next book in the series, False Bottom, I have a subplot that revolves around this idiosyncrasy.

Governments tend to ignore parental conventions when it comes to naming their children and force individuals to be known by their first name for official identifications. My father (James Edward “Ted” Jackson) was known in the Army, at the VA, for Social Security, etc. as James. My son Brad must remember to answer to James whenever he is flying and going through Homeland security checks or immigration.

This name confusion has come in handy for my plot lines. Gaidren died because of it. Seamus and Paddy have used it to assume each other’s identities.

Now you know the skinny on the McCree family naming background. I’m curious, does your family have any interesting stories or traditions about naming children?

***

james-m-jacksonJames M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.

You can order paperback versions of his books from your favorite physical or online bookstore (or from his website if you’d like them autographed). You can find his Kindle books here.

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14 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jim Jackson”

    1. Hi Judy — Mostly the gift of blarney. My mother is adopted, so who knows what lines she brings with her. On my father’s side we’re mostly English, Scots, Northern Irish, and a dab of Welsh. All protestant since the Reformation. I got my Catholic knowledge growing up in an Italian neighborhood.

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      1. There’s that adoption link again. My four kids are all adopted. Only one has done the DNA testing. But I share your British Isles heritage–lots of Scot, no Irish, though that’s not what 23me said. I like your naming technique. I’m always switching names mid-novel or naming too many characters with the same initial. Interesting column, Jim.

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  1. Fascinating!

    The tradition in my family is to name the first daughter after the mothers, with “Mary” coming first. My daughter is the sixth girl in a row to follow this tradition. When she was little, she thought “Mary the Sixth” sounded very regal. 🙂

    When I was growing up, I was adamant I would not do this – because it was way to confusing when someone called and asked for “Mary” (why didn’t we think of going by middle names?). My girl, however, is completely on board for the next generation.

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    1. Sue — I could see where all those Schmidts could cause confusion. My family has a very thin set of branches, but in families with lots of kids, by the time you get to the grandchildren there can be multiple ones with the same names. I remember being at a friend’s house during a big family gathering. And heHis grandmother stood on the back stoop and called for “Tony.” Of the couple of dozen kids, four were Tony, all answered including my friend who I knew as Paul. When I questioned him, he said his father was a Tony and his grandmother sometimes forgot. It was better to answer to the wrong name than to ignore a call from the head matriarch!

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  2. Irish here too. The first grandson is named after the grandfather. The next three of four kids are named after some other ancestor. If you manage to be the seventh or afterborn, you get your own name. However, I decided my kids would each get a name of their own up front and then a family name in the middle. Because I’m a rebel.

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  3. I have my dad’s middle name, but spelled Jean instead of Gene. When it came time to name my children, kid #1 was named after a name with a nice “ring” to it that we saw on a political campaign sign under the 57 freeway overpass. Kid #2 was named after an Elvis Costello song.

    I did “win” a contest and appeared as a mob wife in a Diane Vallere mystery. In the book I wore “exotic” clothing. In real life it’s jeans (middle name ha ha) and a t-shirt.

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    1. An interesting twist using a phonetic spelling of your father’s name. Given I shared the name James Jackson with lots of other people, when it came time to chose a name for our daughter, I wanted something unique. We chose an old English spelling variation of a name. Early on in school she had difficulty convincing the teachers she knew how to spell her name, but long after she reached her majority I asked if we had done her a favor or would she have preferred something more common. She liked the fact that when you Google her name she’s always on the first page.

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