Character Names

Beginning with the first Rolly Waters novel, Black’s Beach Shuffle, one of the things I tried to do was to give my characters distinctive names. Since my protagonist was a musician, I came up with a system for naming all the characters after musicians or music-related entities. I didn’t want to make the names too obvious (no Miles Davis or Elvis Presley) because that would distract the reader from the story. So I decided to mash up the names—one from column A and one from column B. Here’s how it works:

Recurring Characters:
Rolly Waters. Rolly is short for Roland, a company that makes any number of musical instruments, but are best known for their early drum machines, like the TR-808. Waters is for the seminal Chicago blues man, Muddy Waters.
Bonnie Hammond. Bonnie Raitt and Hammond Organs (or legendary A&R man and record producer, John Hammond)
Max Gemeinhardt. Named for the drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Max Weinberg. During my thankfully short-lived jazz-flute playing days, I used a Gemeinhardt flute.
Marley Scratch – for two titans of Reggae music, Bob Marley and dub inventor Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Moogus is a bit of a cheat, it’s a play on Moog, for Robert Moog, inventor of Moog synthesizers. In a later book we find out Moogus’ last name is Ludwig, which is a well-known drum manufacturer. But he’s really just Moogus.

I also applied this method to one-time characters.

Black’s Beach Shuffle:
Alesis Amati. Probably the most ornate name I’ve come up with, this one combines two musical instrument makers. Alesis made the first affordable digital reverb rack (I treasured mine). Amati is a violin manufacturer.
King Gibson. Easy one here. B.B. King and Gibson guitars.
Ricky Rogers is for 50s heartthrob Ricky Nelson. And Rogers drums.

Border Field Blues:
Dr. Zildjian Ramoñes – another slight cheat, but rather clever (I think). The name uses the seminal punk band, the Ramones, with a tilde (ñ) added over the n to give it a Spanish flair. The doctor’s first name, Zildjian, is known to all drummers as manufacturer of the world’s finest cymbals.
Alicia, Rolly’s step-mother, is named for Alicia Keys
Tangerine is named for a song on Led Zeppelin III or the jazz standard by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger. Take your pick.
Burdon for Eric Burdon, lead singer of The Animals (House of the Rising Sun) and the early version of War (Spill that Wine).

Desert City Diva:
Macy Starr comes from a combination of Macy Gray and Ringo, who doesn’t need a last name.
Cool Bob because Bob Dylan is as cool as they come. And he speaks in riddles, just like Cool Bob.
Buddy Meeks is a slight cheat. It combines blues string-bender nonpareil Buddy Guy with innovative English record producer, musician, sound engineer Joe Meek.

Ballast Point Breakdown
Butch Fleetwood combines alt-rock producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth) with drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac.
Janet Withers is a Janet Jackson and Bill Withers mashup.

Special Cases
Anytime a pair of FBI agents show up, they’re named after a famous songwriting team. In Black’s Beach Shuffle, agents Porter and Hayes are named for the great Stax Records songwriting team of David Porter and Isaac Hayes who composed soul classics such as Hold on, I’m Comin’, Soul Man, and When Something is Wrong with My Baby.

For Ballast Point Breakdown, I used a new FBI team named Goffin and King, for the Brill Building husband and wife team Gerry Goffin and Carole King who wrote Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Some Kind of Wonderful, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and Up on the Roof among others. King, of course, went on to write and perform the gazillion-selling album Tapestry.