What's In a Name?


I love culture. American culture. Mexican culture. Jewish culture. Indian culture. You name it -- I love it. Culture comprises my favorite things: faith, family, music, stories, architecture, clothes, language, and, of course, food. Take away the tortilla, and you take away a huge part of Mexican culture. Take away sushi, and you lose a huge part of Japanese culture.

"The World's Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops" is a love letter to cultures: foodie culture, restaurant culture, San Francisco culture, jazz culture, various ethnic cultures, etc. Since food was the centerpiece of this love letter, I gave most of my characters food-related names:

Dallin Caraway (Zoey's best friend) - Caraway is a spice.

Royston Basil Boarhead (food critic) - Basil is an herb. Boarhead is a company that specializes in premium deli meats & cheeses.

Kim Chi (journalist) - Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, is a traditional banchan made from salted and fermented vegetables.

Faruq al-Falafel (food writer) - Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food. A deep-fried ball, doughnut, or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans.

Miss Lemon (banker) - You know, the fruit.

Chef Kung Pao (restaurateur) - Kung Pao is a spicy stir-fry Chinese dish made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers.

Chef Cannoli (restaurateur) - Cannolis are Italian pastries from the Sicily region. The singular is cannolo meaning "little tube."

Mr. Bregenwurst (grocer) - A bregenwurst is a German sausage. Perhaps I should have named him Herr Bregenwurst.

Sandesh Curry (real estate agent) - Curry is a dish originating in India, featuring a complex combinations of spices or herbs, usually including fresh or dried hot chillies.

Knuckles (biker, outlaw) - A knuckle-sandwich. Get it?

Big Masi (competitive eater) - Masi Popo is a Samoan coconut shortbread.

Jambalaya Barbos (Alcatraz tour guide) - Jambalaya is a meat-veggies-and-rice dish of Louisiana origin of Spanish and French influence.

The food-theme naming scheme was also a handy way to pay homage to a character's ethnic heritage without having to say, for example, "she was of Korean descent."

Chef Zoey Kate's parents are part of a jazz band called Valentine & the Nights Owls. I gave these characters music names:

Suzy "Valentine" Kate (band leader, Zoey's mom) - Named after Chet Baker's rendition of "My Funny Valentine."

Michiel Hendryckx, used by permission.

Kenny "Gershwin" Kate (band manager, Zoey's dad) - George Gershwin was a composer. His most famous piece is "Rhapsody in Blue."

Photo by Carl Van Vechten

Bird (Night Owl, saxophone) - A tribute to Charlie Parker Jr., arguably the most famous jazz saxophonist of all time, went by the nickname "Bird."

William P. Gottlieb [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Four (Night Owl, bass) - Four strings on a bass.

Monk (Night Owl, piano) - A tribute to my favorite jazz pianist, the one and only Thelonious Monk.

William P. Gottlieb [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fat Jo (Night Owl, drums) - This character showed up with his name already attached. Jo doesn't relate to any specific part of music history, but he looks a lot like Juan Nelson from the band Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals, so I say it counts.

The only character who didn't get a food or music name was my protagonist, Zoey Kate. She's my daughter. That's her name. That's what's in the book.

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