Not Just Any Name

I relish a good character name, something more than a moniker. Here are two from my long list of favorite character names, both from A. S. Byatt’s novel, Possession.

  • The protagonist, Roland, believed his boss, James Blackadder, editor of Ash’s Complete Works, undermined his career by sending poor references for the academic posts Roland craved. Blackadder’s name suggests a venomous snake, and a black one to boot.
  • Mortimer P. Cropper, a wealthy American professor, bought or stole the poet Ash’s memorabilia to the disgust and dismay of the British scholars. In the end, Mortimer “comes a cropper,” as the Brits say, when caught grave robbing, still holding purloined letters encrusted with graveyard dirt.

For my latest story on Bill McCoy, the (in)famous rum runner, I needed a name for the Captain of the Coast Guard cutter Manhattan who breaks every seafaring rule to capture his nemesis. Trolling thesaurus, dictionaries, and images for inspiration, I found the etymology of “scofflaw” perfectly in sync with my story.  Here’s the reference from one of my favorite sites, The Online Etymology Dictionary.

scofflaw (n.) 1924, from scoff (v.) + law (n.). The winning entry in a national contest during Prohibition to coin a word to characterize a person who drinks illegally, chosen from more than 25,000 entries; the $200 winning prize was split between two contestants who sent in the word separately: Henry Irving Dale and Miss Kate L. Butler.

 I’m thrilled that “scofflaw” was created in response to the failed experiment that was prohibition and can’t wait to introduce you to the dastardly Captain Scoffer.

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