I named Matty Sullivan, the main character of How to Be Manly, after one of the students in the AP Literature class I was teaching. The real Matthew was a great student writer in high school. His literary analysis essays always gave me something new to think about. He made me laugh. His athleticism and grace on the field impressed me. He was kind to others.
When I name my characters, even the unlikable ones, I choose names that I like enough to stick with throughout the months it takes to complete a manuscript. It is important to me to have a good association with the name of someone I’m crafting out of the air.
I had not seen the real Matthew in the years since he graduated high school. Then just last week, at the college on my way to my Educational Leadership class, I passed a grown man who looked a lot like the boy I once knew.
He recognized me and gave me a big hug that almost knocked me over. We talked over each other in our gladness. He was on his way to Spanish class with his friend. We are schoolmates now, both of us working on degrees at the same college.
When I showed him the copy of How to Be Manly I had in my bag, and told him that I named the main character after him, he laughed at me.
“No you didn’t,” he said and laughed some more.
Because it’s funny. It’s funny that your teacher writes novels and always believed in you and so named her made up person after you. It’s funny and it’s weird.
Yet some people are positive and great, and in the short time that we know them, they make us want to be positive and great. As a storyteller I get to honor that in a name or a story line or a character trait in a made up person.
I wished the real Matthew luck that evening, pleased that he is in school and doing what he wants as the author of his life. His journey is just beginning.
It was an honor to be any small part of it.