Sunday, April 7, 2013

What's in a name?

I did finally finish that Tell-Tale Tap piece. I'm pretty pleased with it, particularly the last scene. Paul is heavily featured, as well as Glen Holman and Captain McVey. If anyone is interested, it's here: 

So I have to curiously wonder about assorted things sometimes. Such as names. Where did some of them come from?

I’ve heard the infamous bit on how Erle Stanley Gardner didn’t even stop to think about the fact that you can get Ham Burger if you shorten poor Hamilton’s name. I find it hard to believe it never occurred to him, but then again, it honestly never occurred to me until I read that.

But if it’s true that he didn’t think of that, how did he decide on that name anyway? Or on Perry Mason, Della Street, or any of the rest?

Perhaps some of my curiosity stems from the fact that I am a writer and am often seeking just the perfect names for the characters who wander into my stories. Even though they usually just support the main, canonical casts, I want their names to reflect something important about them whenever possible.

I don’t always go to such lengths for characters, I must admit. Sometimes I pull names out of nowhere or choose names of people (or other characters) I like. For instance, Dr. Alice Portman was created and named in 2002, right when I was on a big Star Wars kick, loved Episode II (yes, I love all the prequels), and had just read a Jedi Apprentice book about a mad scientist. And the name “Portman” came from actress Natalie Portman, who features in all the prequel films. (I do worry it’s somewhat insulting, to have named such an evil character after someone I like, but no insults were intended.)

Other times, however, I spend ages on name websites, going through the names of various countries and cultures to find a cool-sounding name with the meaning I want.

Sometimes I look up the meanings of names of characters (and actors) I really like. Perry, it seems, means foreigner or stranger. Hamilton means scarred or crooked hill. Paul means small, little, or humble. None of those meanings seem to bear any particular significance with the show’s characters.

The name Arthur highly amuses me with its myriad of meanings. Bear hero. Um, no, doesn’t really apply here. Strong as a bear? I . . . don’t really think so. Stone? That doesn’t seem quite right either. The only meanings that make any sense for Arthur Tragg are the Arthurian legend meanings: noble and courageous.

Della seems to only ever mean bright or noble. There’s a couple more meanings that really fit the Perry character!

And what about the characters who only exist in the show and not the books? Who came up with their names, and why? Did a writer know someone named Andy (meaning man or warrior) or Steve (meaning crown or victorious)? Were they based on anyone in real-life?

And Deputy D.A. Sampson. What about him? Was he named for the Biblical Samson (whose name in turn seems to approximately mean sun) or was the name, again, pulled out of thin air or based on someone the writer knew?

I’ve kind of always had it in my mind that there’s definitely some connection between Deputy D.A. Sampson and the Biblical Samson, if not in the writer’s mind, then definitely in the way H.M. Wynant chose to play Sampson.

The Biblical Samson is the man legendary for his physical strength. While we’ve never really had a demonstration of Deputy Sampson’s physical strength, I have the feeling that his mental strength is very great (and that perhaps he prides himself on that). And he has seemingly complete confidence in himself and his methods, just as Samson has about his physical strength.

Samson is also one of the Biblical judges. While the Biblical judges did not exclusively deal with legal matters and more often exercised the roles of military leaders, they did encounter legal problems too. (And I would be very intrigued to learn about some of the legal things Samson dealt with.) Deputy Sampson is a prosecuting attorney and not a judge, but there’s still some similarity there, as far as dealing with legal matters go.

Both of them believe very strongly in justice. True, their methods are not the same, but they do follow the respective laws in their days (Samson believing firmly in “an eye for an eye” and Sampson adhering to modern-day American laws).

Samson had, to say the least, very bad luck with women. That’s one thing we don’t know where Deputy Sampson is concerned, although it did make me think of that one backstory someone else made up for Sampson where he had many unusual encounters with women as a legal student. I don’t accept that as my idea of what Sampson is like, but the loose parallel is odd to note in this list anyway.

I had this set of Bible stories on tape as a kid. (And I’m pretty sure I still have all the books and the tapes, in working order.) I don’t know why, but it kind of seems like I especially gravitated to the one about Samson. I thought he was cool and I felt sorry for him about Delilah. But even though his story ended sad, I played the heck out of that tape.

I don’t know if any of that has any bearing on why I started gravitating to the Perry Sampson, but I find it interesting. I suppose what I think is the strongest parallel is their confidence in their respective strengths, as well as their respective strengths. Deputy Sampson may be brash and somewhat arrogant, but I believe he’s an honestly good person and I consider him one of my heroes on Perry because of the impression I get of his mental strength and his determination to fight for justice and against criminals.


  1. I believe I read somewhere, perhaps in a Forward of a PM book, that Park Street was an attorney and friend of ESG, his model for Perry, and apparently then his inspiration for Della's last name.

    1. Very intriguing! Thank you for the comment! It's refreshing to get a real one. :) Most of what I see these days are stupid spambots.

    2. Since I am a compulsive researcher :) I found the reference to Park Street in the Forward of "The Case of the Waylaid Wolf". That may not be the only one.

      I am enjoying perusing your blog posts, I have to confess that Perry is my favorite character, but really I love them all.

    3. Awesome. Thanks for the follow-up! Let me know if you stumble across any other interesting bits. :)

      I'm happy to find someone who loves them all! They're a wonderful cast of characters.