One Way to Name Characters

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Helen Ludlow is a character that’s been floating in my head for twenty years or so and every once in a while she creeps up on me when least expected, reminding me that as yet she has not told her story.

There are several real Helen Ludlows, I checked, and judging by their photos when you Google “Helen Ludlow,” they each have a sure presence. They all look like women of stature, full of longing and beauty and surprise. But I don’t know any of these real Helen Ludlows and I hope they don’t mind if one day I borrow their name. I mean no harm, but I need it because it’s so perfect for what happens to my character.

Here’s how my character came to be. Not saying it’s a good way to create characters, or the way I usually create them, just Helen.

  • One day I was walking the streets of the Lower East Side, a favorite haunt, when I found myself at the corner of Hester and Ludlow Streets, the location of “the pig market” in one of Manhattan’s immigrant neighborhoods back in the day.
  • I listened for ghosts, tried to imagine what it was like to wait for work in 1900 in the cold dawn with hundreds of hungry others, a sewing machine tucked under one arm, while the streets teemed with push carts and pedestrians shoved one another and jobbers shouted barely understood invectives and the American dream dimmed.
  • I looked up at the street sign and thought, Ludlow, Ludlow, what a perfect name for my character.
  • With the yoking together of name and character, I knew instantly what her fate would be and that it had nothing to do with Hester Street or the pig market or the twentieth century.
  • No, my Ms. Ludlow had a different story.

But she needed a first name, and as I stood there, the name, Helen, came to mind. Helen, of course, perfect: Helen Ludlow. Because of what happens to her, because of who she is and who she will become or try to become.

And another thing. Notice when you speak of characters, it’s best to use the present tense because, at least for me, they are timeless.

Photo and background: itKuPiLLi Imagenarium at

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  1. says

    Hi, I discovered your blog recently from blog hopping. Your site is beautiful. I bought the Kindle version of “Death in Bageria” and am enjoying it immensely.
    I wrote my first contemporary mystery (still revising it), and finding names for some of my characters proved a challenge. I love how you came upon a name while walking the streets of New York and imagining life there in earlier times.

  2. says

    Hello, Jagoda,

    Thanks so much for visiting again and for the compliments. I am SO glad you are enjoying “Death in Bagheria.”

    I know what you mean about naming some characters. Usually the process for me is far more prosaic for me than was Helen’s christening. But speaking of names, I really like the name of your site, conflict tango.

    I hope you visit often.


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