Choosing a name for a character in a novel was just as tough as selecting my son’s name before he was born. I thought of Atticus Finch, Nancy Drew, Rozat “Rusty” Sabich, Mary DiNunzio, Mickey Spillane, Regina “Reggie” Love – on and on.
I thought of the book Primal Fear by William Diehl and the movie starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. The lead prosecutor in that book, and played by Linney in the film, was named Janet Venable. It stuck with me for years, even more than the Gere character, Martin Vail – which is also a great name. Venable is derived from the legal term venerable meaning worthy of respect and tied to Catholicism, which was also a major them in the book/movie.
I wanted my character’s name to make a statement about the attorney in the Texas Lady Lawyer series – that she was strong, competent, good hearted, and tough. More importantly, I wanted to create a feeling tone of those virtues when her name was read or said aloud.
I enlisted the help of my friends and family and sent out an email with my criterion for the name. I got back a large selection – mostly men’s names used for women such as Bobbie, Dani, Teddy, and Alex. While I like these names, they seemed to have been used a lot and I wanted a word also tied to the law.
When I thought of my character, I wanted someone as worthy as Janet Venable was. I also wanted someone who could mediate, strategize, and negotiate – but also fight when the need arose. I selected Merit as a first name because it means worthy and deserving of praise or reward. It also has another meaning in the law – to be “on the merits” means a case decided from the facts. It is black or white, right or wrong – not open to interpretation. Tough.
I selected Bridges as her last name for two reasons. It gave Merit a way to move in the world in light of her strong first name. She can see black and white, but also understands that the world works with mediation and bridges to settlement. Also, Austin, the setting for the series, is connected across the town center by bridges that are a significant part of its beauty.
I gave her two middle names because I’ve always been fascinated by people with four names, and I wanted to tie in the theme of the Lady Lawyer series. So, Merit became Merit Lady Echo Bridges. Lady for the series and because Merit is a girly girl too. And, Echo to have the names reflect each other.
Did the name fit the character or the character fit the name? Either way, Merit Bridges is as much a person to me as most of the people I know. Her name fits her personality and her personality fits her name. When I type, read, or say it, it evokes in my mind the image of a strong and tough but fair person who moves through Austin doing good deeds and taking no prisoners.