Friday, June 10, 2022

Stories Behind Names – By Barbara Baker


Baker, Barbara - BWL Publishing Inc. (

Stories Behind Names – By Barbara Baker

Naming characters is like naming children and there are so many ways to select the right one: Google, TV shows, Apps which rank names by popularity - the list is endless.

But in 1958, when I popped out, those options didn’t exist. I was Mom and Dad’s second child, and they were sure I would be Johanne Wilhelm. They didn’t even have a girl name selected. In fact, when the nurse told Dad I was an 8 lb 12 oz healthy girl his response was, “Are you sure? She’s supposed to be a boy.”

The nurse assured him I was a girl.

What a dilemma. Back then, babies couldn’t leave the hospital till they were named so Mom asked the nurse if she had any suggestions.

After thinking about it for a while the nurse said, “How about Barbara, Barbara Ann. Like Barbara Ann Scott, the Olympic figure skater who won the gold medal for Canada.”

            “Barbara,” Mom nodded. “Barbara Ann. Ja, das ist schön.”

Growing up, I never expected to have an actual connection with the Barbara Ann Scott.

            Fast forward to 2010 when I contacted her. I knew she was running a segment of the Winter Olympic Torch Relay in Ottawa and I would be running the flame from that same torch in Drumheller, Alberta. Coincidence? Stars aligned? Luck? Whatever, I felt it was time to tell her how I got to share her name and, of course, share the excitement of our torch relays.

Being who she was, I knew I couldn’t send an email or a typed letter. This had to be handwritten. With my favourite pen, I used my best cursive writing skills; o’s round as bubbles, everything slanted the same direction and equal spaces between each word. It had to be perfect. When I finished, I thanked her for listening, folded it into three equal parts and sealed it away with a stamp stuck square in the corner.

Neat. Proper. Appropriate.

Weeks later the red light was blinking on my answering machine. I tapped the button, and a lively, clear voice filled the room. I recognized her right away. It was Barbara Ann Scott. She said she hoped she had the correct number to leave a message for Barbara Baker.

“Yes, you do!” I danced a jig right in front of the phone while I listened to her message.


She thanked me for the letter and told me she too was thrilled to run the Olympic Torch. She closed off with well wishes and said good-bye.


I played the message a hundred times. I phoned and emailed all my friends to share the news.  How gracious of her to take the time out of her day and call me. And how lucky am I that Mom’s nurse picked a great name.

How I named Jillian, my main character in SUMMER OF LIES, is a mystery to me. I didn’t know a Jillian. I didn’t use Google. None of my kid’s friends were named Jillian. So how did I pick it? I have no idea. The name jumped on the page and stuck and now I can’t imagine calling her anything else.

How did you get your name? How do you name your characters?

Summer of Lies: Baker, Barbara:9780228615774: Books -

Summer of Lies - YouTube

Smashwords – About Barbara Baker, author of 'Summer of Lies'

Barbara Wackerle Baker | Facebook

Barbara Wackerle Baker (@bbaker.write)


  1. Naming characters is an interesting adventure. One of my character's names came because I mispelled Laura and Lara came on the page. Keep writing

    1. An unusual way to get a character's name but cool!

  2. Names have meaning, and some have special powers. I got mine when I spent some time in India studying and meditating in an ashram. For my birthday, my teacher gave me a name. VIJAYA. It comes from Vidya (knowledge) and Jaya (forever victory). The others in the ashram were surprised. I was 5 feet tall and short of a hundred pounds. The only other with that name in the monastery was VIJAY, a huge elephant bull, mean and quick to anger. When I came to the United States with the husband I had met in India, I made VIJAYA my legal name. It may be difficult for some to remember, but to me, it has a profound meaning. My stay in India inspired my novel "ASHES FOR THE ELEPHANT GOD."

    1. Now there's a conversation starter! Thanks for sharing.

  3. The names of my characters have to resonate with how I see them, so it's not unusual for them to change names many times throughout the story. Sometimes I will google names, but most of the time, the right name will just pop into my head as the story unfolds.

    As for me, my parents love the song Lili Marleen, by Marlene Dietrich, so they named me Marlene.

    1. And isn't it odd when the character name just pops into your head and sticks. It's like someone is working the story with you :)

  4. A movie star had a baby just before I was born, and chose the same name Mom had picked out. She was ticked off, and so I am named, by default--after all, her pride wouldn't allow HER to be mistaken for someone who named her child after a movie star's--"Juliet," the same as her own little sister.

  5. Great story and pic! I was supposed to be 'George,' though I wish my Irish parents used my name's Gaelic version: Siobhan.

  6. Yay for a fellow "Barbara"! I was born in 1949, so a little close to you. I'm a Barbara Jean. It's fun naming characters but also sometimes frustrating as not just any name will do. But as agreed with other authors here, names are important to who the character is. Best wishes, Barb

  7. Writing historical romances means checking Mr. Google for what names were popular in whichever year I have set my story but I was named after the doctor who delivered me. She was Dr. Victoria Tryon, and I met her in 1964 when she came to my grandmother's house where I was visiting with my mother and my new baby daughter. Dr. Tryon was quite taken with the idea of four generations of women under one roof.


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