Name It by Nicki Bennett

Name It

Character names are important to me—I almost always need to come up with the right names before I can start to define my characters, let alone write them. That’s especially true for my two protagonists, but I put thought into finding the right names for even minor characters.

In Bad to the Bone, I wanted my “golden boy” character’s name to have an All-American, boy-next-door quality. I picked the first name Alexander because its connotation of “Alexander the Great” supported the expectations the teenage Alex faced and provided a bit of ironic contrast to the way his life had turned out. I chose Morrison as a last name because I liked the cadence of it with both Alexander and Alex.

Even though Alex and his sister are six years apart in age, I wanted to show that they had a close and loving relationship by giving them nicknames for each other that only they would use. Since Alexander lent itself to Xan, and I liked the idea that their parents had given them names starting with the same initial, I looked for a woman’s name that could be shortened to Lan. I eventually settled on Alanna, though I didn’t realize until later that I might have been subconsciously influenced by the singer Alanis Morissette.

I experimented with “bad boy” names for quite a while before I found the right one. I wanted a name that sounded a bit “poor country” to contrast with Alex’s more middle-class image. It also had to be a name I could imagine Alex calling out or groaning when things eventually got hot and heavy! After a few false starts, I decided on Ricky Lee Jennings, and now I can’t imagine him as anything else. Incidentally, since he’s half Native American, Ricky Lee also has a Comanche name, though since his father refused to let his mother share anything of his heritage, he may not know what it is (yet).

For Alex’s best friend, who’s his former high-school girlfriend and now a Freeland police officer, I wanted a name that was feminine but could be shortened to a masculine form—and so Samantha/Sam. On the other hand, Ricky Lee’s best friend is non-gender-binary, and I needed a name to reflect that. None of the gender-neutral names, or rather names that could be used by either gender, felt right. I eventually made up the name Crae, since I can imagine the character creating their own unique and agender name.

The first name of the story’s antagonist, Odell, comes from a small town in downstate Illinois. We drive past the exit sign several times a year when we travel between Texas and Chicago, and I thought it would make a great character name! Maybe it’s all the Regencies I read as a teen, but it has a bit of a connotation of “odious” to me that made it perfect for the story’s “bad guy.”

For the rest of the minor characters, I pulled up sites showing the most popular baby names for boys and girls in the mid-to-late 2000s, when most of them would have been born. I found lists of the most common surnames in the parts of Oklahoma I was writing about to make them as authentic as I could. I also researched Comanche names for the maternal side of Ricky Lee’s family.

I get ideas for character names from a number of places. When my husband and I are road-tripping, names on highway signs or billboards may inspire me. I enjoy exploring old cemeteries and have collected some unique surnames from tombstones! Hunting through genealogical records can also yield interesting suggestions. If characters come from a particular ethnic background, there are websites like or that let me search among thousands of male and female names, some of which can work as surnames too. I’ve learned to keep a notebook handy to jot down promising names so that when a story idea strikes, I have a resource to start me on the road to the ideal names for my characters.


Check out Bad to the Bone today!





A second chance at first love—if he has the courage to take it.

Alex can’t think of himself as anything but a failure. In high school, he was on the fast track to a career in pro football when he forged an unlikely friendship with a half-Comanche boy from the wrong part of town, Ricky Lee Jennings. Their shared love of books could have grown into more—but a homophobic teammate attacked Ricky Lee, and Alex wouldn’t risk his scholarship to defend him. Ricky Lee was kicked out of school, and Alex never heard from him again.

Now Alex’s glory days are nothing but a memory. An injury ended his football aspirations, his marriage fell apart, and his dreams of making a difference as an environmental lobbyist are as dead as his fantasies of sports stardom.

But all that could change in one magical night, when Ricky Lee shows up at their high-school reunion.



“You have any preference on where to have dinner tonight?” Ricky Lee asked. “There’s a restaurant in the hotel, but it’s mostly burgers and sandwiches.”

“Freeland hasn’t exactly become a mecca of fine dining since you left.” Alex tilted his head, considering. “There’s not much unless you want to head up 44 to Lawton.” Stupid, Morrison, he told himself as soon as he said it. Remind him again of having to leave town.

“Maybe some other time,” Ricky Lee answered, and Alex could swear his deep voice went even huskier. “I think I’d rather stay close tonight.”

Alex hoped that was because he was tired from working on the build all morning and not because he’d put his foot in his mouth mentioning Lawton. At least it implies there may be another time. “Honestly, some of the best food in town is at the little mom-and-pop places along Wichita and Main. There’s a pretty good taqueria we could walk to from your hotel, or if you’ve had enough Mexican for the day, there’s the pizzeria, though they mostly do carryout.”

“Tacos sound good. Want to meet in the hotel lobby around six?”

“If you can wait until six thirty, that will give me time to help Alanna close up.”

“Works for me.” Ricky Lee unhooked his thumbs and took a step forward. “There’s just one more thing.” He moved even closer, backing Alex up against the ladders he’d just racked. “I’ve been wanting to do this all day.”

Ricky Lee lowered his head and brushed his lips against Alex’s. Alex drew in a startled breath, and Ricky Lee swallowed the exhale, closing his mouth over Alex’s. He raised his hands to grasp the shelves on either side of Alex’s head, pinning him in place—not that Alex made any move to get free. He clutched at Ricky Lee’s hips and opened himself to the kiss that bore as little resemblance to the innocent touch of eleven years ago as a wildfire did to the flicker of a birthday candle.


Author Bio:

Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.

You can find Nicki on her Facebook page:


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