Sweeney Todd, Sherlock Holmes, and Stephen Ambrose

A friend of mine asked me about the name of one of my characters, Sherlock. He’s in Sworn Enemy, a British medic and a paratrooper, and his real name is Richard Holmes. I thought it would be fun to explain how he got his name, in case anyone else is curious.

A few years ago I read Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944, by Stephen Ambrose. It tells the true story of the British glider-borne troops who landed on the far east end of the Normandy D-day invasion sites. (It’s a good book—I highly recommend it.) In Pegasus Bridge, there was a man named Todd (or maybe more than one—its been a while since I read the book) and at least one man with the last name Sweeney. So naturally, all the Todds had the nickname Sweeney, and the man named Sweeney had the nickname Todd, on account of the books and movies about Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I’ll confess I had a little trouble keeping track of all the Todds called Sweeney and the Sweeneys called Todd, but according to Ambrose, such nick-names were fairly common at the time. Thus, I decided to have a character with the last name of Holmes go by Sherlock.

Have you come across any book-or-play-inspired nicknames, either for yourself, a family member, a friend, or a character in a book you’re writing?

4 Comments

  1. Interesting. I haven’t yet come up with a good nickname from a book for someone yet…unless it’s Gollem. I call my boy that when he makes weird noises.

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  2. Very interesting look into your thought process on the character name. Now I feel I should move “Pegasus Bridge” up on my TBR list- have had it in my library for years and haven’t gotten around to it.

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