Naming Characters and Coffee Shops

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Someone on Facebook recently asked me when I planned to auction off another character name, which made me realize that I forgot to auction one off for my work-in-progress, The Lies We Told. Life got a little crazy during this book! It’s too late now, unfortunately, but I will definitely remember for the next book. Meanwhile, I thought I’d tell you about some of the names I’ve had the challenge of using in the past.

First, an explanation. When I auction off a character name, that means I will use the winner’s name–but not his or her personality or likeness–in the novel on which I’m currently working. The winner must agree to have his or her name used for a secondary character, for good or evil. The purpose of the auction is to have fun and to make money for a charitable organization. 

The first time I auctioned a name was for my church in Virginia. I had in mind, as I usually do, both a male or female character that I could name after the winner. However, I didn’t count on the winner being Moto Sato. I mean, what were the odds? The book I was working on at the time was Kiss River, and I had to somehow fit a Japanese man into the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the second World War. Okay, I could have used the name for one of the modern day characters, but I like a good challenge. As I began thinking about it, I came up with a perfect subplot involving Mr Sato. Writing is often that way. What seems like a dilemma turns into an opportunity, just as in life. 

The second auction, also for my church, was won by a gentleman with the perfectly sane name Jim Price. I’ve always been grateful to Mr Price for this! He became a lovely character in Her Mother’s Shadow.

Next came The Bay at Midnight. I knew which character I needed a name for. He was a thug. A real brute. And who won? Bruno Walker. The name was too perfect. How could I name a brute Bruno without the reader groaning? But I did, and it worked out well.     

Unless I’m forgetting, which is very possible, I don’t think I auctioned a character name for The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. I was writing that book the year I moved from Virginia to North Carolina, so a) I was moving away from my church community and its auctions and b) I was frazzled.

When I became involved with the North Carolina Writers’ Network, though, I raffled off a name at their conference. I was writing Before the Storm at the time, and I had a fairly good idea what character I needed a name for. I’d forgotten my usual luck at this auctioning-off-names thing, though. The person who won? Jabeen Akhtar. Sigh. I played around with the name for weeks, trying to figure out where she would fit into the story without simply taking over the book. Such a great name! I had a coffee shop in the book, and it came to me one sleepless night: Jabeen’s Java Bean. Jabeen’s is practically a character in the book, and since the coffee shop is also in the sequel, my current release Secrets She Left Behind, I think I’ve done my duty by Jabeen.

So I will do this again with my next book (which I’ll be starting in September! No rest for the weary). I’m not sure yet, but I may use the Internet to help me auction off the name this time. That way, I can increase my chances of getting a name that keeps me awake at night as I try to figure out how to use it.


  1. Denise on July 26, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I did not know you had gotten these names via auctions! The winners must have been thrilled to see their names in print, especially Jabeen.
    The great thing about this is that you wrote these characters into the stories so seamlessly. I can’t imagine Kiss River without a Mr. Sato!

  2. Diane Chamberlain on July 26, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Denise, It’s similar to that writing exercise in which you need to create a story that includes, say, an orange, a roller coaster, a mailbox and a swimming pool. The creative juices kick in and magic happens–sometimes.

  3. Denise on July 27, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Well, you certainly wove those names in perfectly! Bruno was a gift. Lol

  4. Lindsay on July 27, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I think it’s a great idea to possible include the online community in an auction!
    I haven’t been around for your last few posts (was across the border in Illinois for a work conference- I’m in love with chicago now by the way)… so i will be catching up now 🙂

  5. brenda on July 27, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Is the book finished? I arrived home tonight the 27th–I love love California-I have seen more of this country this year…leave again in a couple of days. I hope I didn’t miss anything-tried to read as much as possible. It is neat to be in a book as a character. I am Aunt Brenda at Myrtle Beach in a book a friend of mine wrote…the kids loved that.

  6. Diane Chamberlain on July 27, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Isn’t Chicago fabulous, Lindsay? Hope you had a great conference.

  7. Diane Chamberlain on July 27, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    And I love that you’re having such a great summer, Brenda. My deadline is a week from today. August 3rd. I will make it (or very nearly make it, if not right on the dot). You’ll hear me shouting for joy wherever you are then.

  8. Lindsay on July 28, 2009 at 12:31 am

    The conference was an amazing experience, very busy and a tad bit overwhelming (with all the information).
    We were only able to enjoy Chicago for one evening but we spent it at Navy Pier and I’m desperate to make plans to go back for a real trip there. I loved the taste I got and definitely want more 🙂

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