Joely Sue Burkhart: The Trials & Tribulations of Naming a Hero 9


It all started as a simple question I posed to my husband. I was working on a brand new idea that involved Maya mythology and I needed to name my hero. I told him I didn’t want anything hard to pronounce or spell (like Itzpapalotl, the Aztec vampire from Laurell K. Hamilton’s Obsidian Butterfly) or potentially cliched like “Jaguar Paw,” but a unique name that would immediately tell the reader that this hero was not your every day Tom, Dick, or Harry.

My husband said, “Why not Ruin?”

I scoffed, but that name—that stupid, stupid name!!—stuck in my head.

I tried to vanquish it by having a Casting Call, where I interviewed my character and put a face to him. From the beginning, the Maya hero was played by Dwayne Johnson in my mind. You can read the original interview and see that it didn’t go so well.

Ruin wanted his name and so I finally surrendered.

Fast forward, and Carina Press wanted to publish Ruin’s story, with one caveat: we were probably going to have to change his name. I invited Dwayne as Ruin back to my blog to make the sale announcement, trying to prep my brain to accept a new hero’s name. My editor, Alissa Davis, made a valid point that it was strange to see such an “English” name on a supposedly “Mayan” hero, so I went back to the drawing board.

Ruin is loosely based on one of the hero twins of the Popol Vuh, a Maya creation story. Xbalanque was at least Maya in flavor and not cliched like Jaguar Paw, but not easy to spell or pronounce. We decided to call him “Balam” for short, which means jaguar, since some translations of Xbalanque’s name were indeed “Yax Balam,” precious jaguar.

I made a complete revision pass to change his name, and even added a key pivotal moment near the end based on “Yax Balam” that I personally found very touching. We proceeded toward production, but when we got the cover copy, we hit another road block.

The general consensus was that Xbalanque wasn’t really much better than Ruin.

We did more brainstorming, looking at Spanish words for various key phrases and even more standard Hispanic names, but I just couldn’t see Ruin as “Carlos.”

He was still Ruin in my mind.

Luckily, Alissa agreed, and even though that meant another quick revision pass to change his name back, I was very happy. Ruin is unusual for a romance hero, yes, but definitely evocative. He is a “ruin” in many ways. He’s tortured, cursed, and carries a crushing pyramid of guilt, yet there’s a great deal of mystery and buried treasure to be found in his heart. He’s as old as his ruined city, Chi’Ch’ul, the Mouth of Creation, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and just as magical.

In the end, he’s one very precious jaguar, Yax Balam, to Dr. Jaid Merritt.

Read Ruin’s story in my upcoming Carina Press release, The Bloodgate Guardian, Chapter One excerpt. I hope you love him as much as I do!

Joely Sue Burkhart
http://joelysueburkhart.com
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9 thoughts on “Joely Sue Burkhart: The Trials & Tribulations of Naming a Hero

  • Inez Kelley

    As Ginny Glass and I know well, changing a heroes name after the story is written is hard!! I like Ruin myself but then, what do I know. I liked Jasper, too.

  • Liz Fichera

    Ruin is an intriguing name on so many levels. I like it! And I know exactly what you mean about getting attached to a particular name. It's so hard to change them, especially after your emotionally invested!

  • Joely Sue Burkhart

    Thanks for having me, Leah!

    Inez, I totally feel your pain! It's super hard to change a character's name once he's solid and real in your mind.

    Thanks so much, Liz! I was definitely emotionally invested in Ruin!

  • Gina Leigh Maxwell

    Ooh, I LOVE the name Ruin. Congratulations on being able to keep his name. I don't know what I'd do if I was told I had to change my MC's name. That would be like someone telling me I have to change my child's name when he hit preschool or something!

  • SusiSunshine

    I have no idea how to pronounce Xbalanque. LOL But I love Ruin. It is a wonderful fitting name. It really suits him as a character and it so great you could keep it!

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