Ever wonder how authors name their characters? It can be a tricky business. My characters have undergone multiple name changes due to my bad habit of giving them all names starting with the same letter. Ugh. Can you say ‘confusing’?
A main character in AROON, Eveleen, was originally named Catherine. I can’t remember what prompted me to change it to Margaret, which was shortened to Marg. That’s with a hard G like a friend from Australia years ago. My writer’s group was annoyed since they wanted to call her Marge. She is not a “Marge,” whatever that means. Names do have personalities.
Nonetheless, I found a website called “Baby Names of Ireland” (http://www.babynamesofireland.com/) which has the added feature of Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) reading each name and its Gaelic meaning.
I chose the first initial ‘E’ since I hadn’t used it in a character name yet. (That was when Sir Edward was Sir Robert—same initial as Richard. Sigh.) I like the soft, lyrical sound of Eveleen, which is pronounced ‘Ay-vleen’ and has the bonus of sounding like my sister’s name, Evelyn, to whom the book is dedicated.
But I digress.
In more recent research, I was focused on the physical description of a character who, in my mind, resembled Ichabod Crane of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I googled to find images to help with descriptions.
Clicking around (half research/half procrastination), I discovered that Ichabod Crane was a real guy! Yes. Ichabod Bennet Crane was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1787.
The son of a general, he chose a military career. First as a U. S. Marine, he was made a second lieutenant and served aboard a frigate for two years. In 1812, he left the Marines to become a captain in the U. S. Army. I don’t know why he switched branches. Maybe he’d hit some early 19th century version of a Marine glass ceiling. Still, he had many successes as an army captain.
So, what about Washington Irving and his gangly character? How many Ichabod Cranes could there have been? We don’t know for sure. But we do know the two men met in 1814 at Fort Pike in upstate New York. As an aide-de-camp to the governor of that state, Irving helped his boss inspect defenses in that area.
Ichabod Crane is a cool, lyrical name and may have stuck in Irving’s mind, only to come out when he wrote his short story six years later. In the one photo of the real Crane, he doesn’t look too skinny, but it was taken thirty-four years after they met, so who knows?
Either way, Ichabod Crane—who only would have been remembered perched upon the Crane Family Tree—has become an immortal part of our American culture.
Though I bet he’d prefer the more recent characterization.