What’s in a Name?

I tried a couple of names for the main character of “The Spark” but nothing really stuck. It finally came to me in one of those precious moments of inspiration.

Three of my brothers died before I was born. Donny was hit by a car. Robert died of polio. A third, unnamed boy, died shortly after birth.  I realize now how extraordinary it was that my parents endured that inconsolable loss, not once, not twice, but three times, and came through it scarred, but relatively sane.

Left to right: my sister Eva, brother Rick, parents Olive & Lorne, and yes, I'm the incredibly cute little guy.

Left to right: my sister Eva, brother Rick, parents Olive & Lorne, and yes, I’m the incredibly cute little guy.

I was the least affected, since it all happened before I came along, but the ghostly presence of those three big brothers I never knew, was never far away. My surviving brother and sister and I are spread over a fourteen year span.We never really shared our childhoods. Or at least I never shared theirs. I have been frequently reminded that they were very active participants in mine. I often wondered what it would have been like to grow up with someone closer to my own age.

The name Donny Robertson, is a tribute to my three lost brothers. It’s also a tribute to my parents, Lorne and Olive Kenny, who had the courage to weather those terrible storms, support each other, raise their remaining children as best they could and hold onto their faith in the goodness of life and the world around them.The story behind the name Donny Robertson is a minor detail really, irrelevant to the plot and story arc, but it’s something that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I think my Mom and Dad would have liked it.

Other names in “The Spark” come from a variety of sources. Some are totally arbitrary. I just liked the way they sounded – John Aldrich for example. A few are named for friends and colleagues. In almost every case, however, the real person has almost nothing in common with their fictional namesake.

The one exception is the real Paul Fitzgerald. The real life “Fitz” is very much alive. He’s been enjoying a well-earned retirement for about thirteen years now. But when I joined the Fire Department, Fitz was indeed my first Captain. Fitz was and still is a leader and an old school fire fighter, an example of the best of what that means: tough, courageous and compassionate. He taught me a lot more than just the skills and arcane craft of firefighting. He was also a friend and mentor.

It’s said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Fitz arrived when there was a lot more going on in my life than just a change in career. Fitz encouraged me, went to bat for me and kicked my ass good and hard when I needed it. They’d call that harassment today, but it probably saved my life.

I only had the pleasure of serving under his leadership for a few years, but they were critical years. To a very large degree they shaped me as a firefighter and had no small influence on the man I am today. If I never said it properly before, Fitz, let me express here a very public and sincere thank you!

What’s in a name? Not much, really. But the people behind them make all the difference in the world.


  1. I was delighted to see, part way into this excellent read, that there is a character named Adina. Betcha didn’t know that that is our daughter, Megan’s, middle name.

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