What’s in a name?

I recently changed my villain’s name. Computers make this blessedly easy, although in one of my early books, back in the days before words were processed, I had to go through and stick that white paper tape in a hundred spots after I decided that the name was just wrong. Not, in those days, a decision undertaken lightly.

But now, buttons remove the sweat from changing names, or places or colors or even sexes, although that last takes a bit more work. So when I decided that Aldous Martin was just a bit too noncommittal, that I needed something that hissed in the mind, changing him to Aldous Carstairs was a task that didn’t take a complete read-through of the manuscript, paper-tape in hand.

My main character has retained his name since the very beginning—Bennett Grey (English spelling, since he’s English.) And although I have both a Sarah and a Laura, and may in the end change one of those ladies, I don’t altogether mind the similarity of their names.

But I’m wondering about my hero. (And by the way, please don’t worry that I’m giving anything away here—you’ll know the hero and the villain the minute they walk on. And of course you’ll suspect that one or the other of them isn’t what he seems, which may or may not be true.) He’s an American in England, very much the stranger in a strange land, a tough, New York gumshoe-type among the bluebloods. His name is Stuyvesant, distantly related to governor Peter (although yes I am aware that the last descendent died childless in 1953) although he’s of a part of the family that’s come a ways down the economic ladder.

What’s giving me hesitation is that although his name—Harris Stuyvesant—looks fine on the page, knobby and rough and interesting, it’s a bit of a mouthful. Half the readers out there probably couldn’t pronounce it. Stooey—? Stoy–? Which in itself might not be bad, except that my publishers are thinking of another with the same characters, which makes it into a series of sorts, which means that the name is attached to it. (There—I’ve given something away: Harris Stuyvesant survives. Except, of course, if the next book I’m thinking about is a prequel…)

So I have my ear out for an alternate identity for my Yank hero. If anyone out there is struck by the perfect Stuyvesant substitute, let me know, and you can get your name into the acknowledgments page of Touchstone.

Posted in


  1. Jessikast on October 6, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    How do you pronounce Stuyvesant?

    My instinct is to say stoo-yev-es-arnt, but then I’m wondering if the ‘y’ changes the sound of the vowels in the first syllable, and where the stress is and etc etc.

  2. Jaimee Drew on October 7, 2006 at 1:15 am

    Harris Frank? Although my thought is that a hero type guy should have a long sounding vowel sound in his name…. Harris Krewe? Orson Welles picked a K name for Citizen Kane because of how strong a K looked on a poster. Good luck in your search!

  3. Pen on October 7, 2006 at 8:10 am

    How about Kennedy instead of Stuyvesant? Certainly old America with Irish ancestry.

  4. Antigonos on October 7, 2006 at 8:22 am

    Call him Rennselaer–“Rennie” for short. Keeps the Dutch, NY connection. My two agorot-worth (worth not even a penny, let alone tuppence 🙂

  5. myninki on October 7, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Its funny, I will just said Stuyvesant, as its written….

  6. L. Crampton, LAc on October 7, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    Stuyvesant, ‘stye-vs-ent’ as I learned it. It is odd to me to think that there would be people who grew up in U.S. schools that don’t know how to pronounce this . . . but then, there are students in graduate school who don’t know how to access original sources in the library . . . which educational travesty I never expected, either. I’m not much help with alternatives–everything I think of is potentially a name for one of my characters!

  7. Anonymous on October 7, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    If you’re trying for old New York, something with Van could do it.

    Or there’s Clinton, as in DeWitt Clinton and his big ditch (Erie canal.)

    Tweed, for the boss? Nast, for the cartoonist? Roosevelt, for all three of them? (Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor.)That might be too topical for your time period though.

  8. L. Crampton, LAc on October 7, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Harris Delancey? Bleeker? Christopher? Van Amburgh? Van Alstyne? I have a book that was owned in the early part of the 20th C. by one Harrison Trexler–quite a name. Webster? Stoughton. Houghton. Good luck!

  9. Sonja on October 7, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    How funny, I was searching for the name Stuyvesant and just then figured out that it was a Dutch name… Thought it was American, really. But maybe it’s the reason I’ve no problems pronouncing it. In an Americanish way, although. 😉

    Right, names. No idea whether or not these are good NY names, but I can give it a try, can’t I? So: Amoriso, Jidge, Chandler… Chester? Or a Dutch-related name like Young?

    Good luck, anyway. 🙂

  10. Chalicechick on October 8, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Having a first name that ends with a letter and a last name that begins with the same letter makes them run together.

  11. Roxanne on October 9, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    “Harris Trexler.” I like that. The “x” is sharp and strong (kind of like the K). Also, there is some alliteration with the “s” sound. It is a memorable name. And it sounds like “a tough, New York gumshoe-type.”

  12. Chalicechick on October 9, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    By the way, over at my blog, I Tagged you with the book meme.

    I’d be interested to see how you answered the questions if you have time.

  13. kalaith on October 9, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    How about Harris Sturtevant? It has a similar sound as Stuyvesant but perhaps more readily pronouncable. The Sturtevant surname has English and Dutch origins which might fit in well with your novel.

    Love your work. Best of luck on your future writings.

  14. Christy Lockstein on October 9, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    How about Harris Dutcher? Dutch for short. Obviously an old Dutch name, from Dutchess County, NY.

  15. Anonymous on October 9, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    I have lived for many years on Stuyvesant Oval in New York City and have come to realize that 90% of telephone clerks or customer service individuals around the US cannot pronounce or spell it (not to mention what happens when customer service is outsouced to Asia). But I still like the name and its historic resonances.

  16. Tish on October 9, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    I like christy’s suggestion, but would change it a bit to keep your character’s name as-is, but have him go by “Dutch” as a label his gumshoe buddies gave him. Being known by different names in different circles could have interesting possibilities for the guy.

  17. Karen on October 10, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    another Dutch surname with the same prickly feeling is Brinkerhoff, but perhaps a variation of Stuyvesant like Stiverson might be better if you would like to keep in the distant Peter Stuyvesant ancestry. Dutch names seem to take on an English pronunciation upon or soon after their arrival here as my own is no longer pronounced “bouse” but buys.

    Good luck with the writing and best wishes for your husband’s health.


  18. Melissa on October 11, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    You could call him Harris Bayard—not particularly exciting but Peter Stuyvesant’s wife’s surname. He could be perturbed by the English pronunciation in two syllables because he would probably pronounce it with one syllable.

  19. elisa on October 12, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    And you could use the trick of having him explain how to pronounce it to another character who’s only read his name.

  20. Bad Alice on October 15, 2006 at 3:48 am

    Well, I still don’t know how to pronounce Daghliesh, from the P.D. James series, and I remember being brought up short by
    “Death” in Peter Death Wimsey. They sure stay in the mind, though, by virtue of their oddity.

  21. Anonymous on October 18, 2006 at 4:28 am

    Harris Van Winkle?

  22. Elle on October 19, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    Such good suggestions! And of course, I have some, too.

    What about a variation of Melissa’s suggestion (Bayard), and make it Baird? I like the two-syllable/one-syllable sound for Harris Baird. Plus, it looks alliterative, if such a thing is possible, with the a/i/r similarities.

    Another I like is DuBois. I grew up pronouncing it doobwah, but I believe it is usually pronounced duboys.

    I’d suggest my Dutch maiden name, Buchin (pronounced beooosheen or booshane), but I myself think it’s too “soft-sounding” to go with Harris.

  23. Elle on October 19, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    My first name is Laura (so I hope you keep that one, Laurie), and I am always on the lookout for authors who use Laura as a name. But I find it very interesting that you’ve paired it with Sarah as another character, and here’s why. All of my life, people in different walks of life and with different ties to me have called me “Sarah” when they can’t remember my name. I don’t know if I look like a Sarah or if the two names sound enough alike to be confusing, but a Laura/Sarah combination makes my spine tingle. I know it’s going to be a great book!

  24. Anonymous on October 27, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    For Dutch last names, I like:
    van Alstyne
    Schuyler (prominent family in Albany area for a long time and I think intermarried with the Stuyvesants )
    Hope this help!
    -Margaret Emily Merrill

  25. Maer on November 1, 2006 at 4:54 am

    Might I suggest the name of my 9th grade English teacher who introduced me to creative writing and Sherlock Holmes?

    Her name: Mrs. Vander Linden

    Harris Vander Linden, or Harris Vanderlinden.

    Works for me!

Leave a Comment