The Name’s the Thing (Or, “Call Me Galen!”)

By all accounts, I have a simple first name.  “Mike” is as run-of-the-mill as it gets.  Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been in a group of people and someone says, “Mike!  Hey, Mike!” several heads turn toward the voice.  It’s a common moniker.

Mike | All names have meanings................


In my case, though, there are backstories, and stories behind the backstories.

When I was a toddler, I decided early on that I loathed the name “Michael.”  “I don’t like the ‘cole’ at the end,” I said.  “Everyone call me ‘Mike.'”  And, basically, they did.  In fact, this is a preference I still hold to this day.  I still prefer “Mike” to “Michael”–though I do not loathe my “proper” name anymore.  It’s okay!  I don’t hate the “cole” anymore.  But “Mike” is still the name of choice.

Coal | Facts, Uses, & Types | Britannica


The thing is, shortly after I declared that childhood proclamation, I swerved headlong into a new name.  When I was four years old, I fell in love with Planet of the Apes.  And I mean, head  over heels!  I watched the movie dozens of times, collected the action figures, played made-up games with all the characters.  One time, my cousin Symone–born in the same year I was–came over to play.  She wanted to play with my Planet of the Apes action figures.  “Okay,” I told her.  “Just don’t play with Galen!  You can touch anyone else, but not Galen.”  I can’t remember why I didn’t play with her.  I just let her play with my action figures, and did my own thing.

Ape Soldier (Planet of the Apes 1968) | Deadliest Fiction Wiki | Fandom


To back up, as much as I loved Planet of the Apes, I loved the character Galen more.  I wanted to be Galen.  In fact, in my mind, I was Galen!

“Call me Galen,” I announced one morning to my mother.  She may have thought I was joking.  I was not.  “I won’t answer to ‘Mike’ anymore.  My name is Galen!”

Galen (APJ) | Planet of the Apes Wiki | Fandom


I also announced this to my sister and two brothers, my father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, everyone.  I was Galen!  Not Mike.  Who was he?  He didn’t exist anymore.

So, when Symone did exactly what I told her not to do, I lost it.  The first thing she did was reach for Galen.

Instantly, I snatched the figure away from her.  But that wasn’t all I did.  I got up, ran out of my room, Galen in hand, and yelled to my mother, “She touched Galen!  She touched Galen!”  I felt compelled to make the case against her, as if arguing before a grand jury.  This was an infraction of the highest order.

Virtual Grand Juries? | New Jersey Law Journal


Symone came running out, too, trying to take Galen back.  “It’s not fair!” she said.  “It isn’t fair!”  (Keep in mind, we were both four!)

I honestly cannot remember how it all turned out that day.  But even now, all these years later, the family gets a good laugh out of it.

But that was just the start.

I didn’t limit my new name of choice to my family.  Far from it.  My mother had recently signed me up for a book club at the local library.  Two dozen or so toddlers would sit in a circle in the library once a week, and the librarian would read to us, the parents watching, nearby.  Each child in the group had a name tag they needed to wear.  I insisted the librarian write my name in as “Galen.”  I’m sure my mother had to explain why, but in the end, “Galen” it was.

Library / Library Policies


It was summer.  There were two months before I would begin kindergarten.  My mother, surely, was anxiously eyeing the calendar, hoping against hope that my Galen obsession would clear, like the summer heat and humidity, at the start of the school year right after Labor Day.

But right then, in mid-July, it was going as strong as ever.

My parents took the entire family to the Adirondack Mountains, a three-hour drive through upstate New York, before arriving at our destination of Whiteface Mountain.  It was a rare mini-vacation for us back then.  And I was in full Galen mode.  Both of my older brothers mocked me on the drive up, taking liberties with my adopted name.  Bring it on!  I was Galen.  I didn’t care what they said.

Exploring Whiteface Mountain - The Whiteface Lodge


At one point during the trip, after we’d arrived, I was frolicking in a playground, my mother right there, monitoring.  Several other children were there, swinging, sliding, running around in circles like puppies chasing their tails.  I was having a blast.  But then my mother called out, telling me it was time to go.

“Michael, we have to go,” she said above the din of children’s voices and the sounds of our play.

I ignored her, kept right on playing.

“Mike!” she said, knowing that was the name I preferred.  I didn’t acknowledge her.  She knew what my name was.

There was a pause.  Then:  “Galen!”

I came running!  All I asked was to be called by my new name!  There were other parents there, too, no doubt glancing askew at the child with the odd name.

But from there, the Galen fascination did in fact wane, I moved on to other things, and, indeed, by the start of school that fall, I was “Mike” again.


In the years since, I have never populated a story I’ve written with a character named Galen.  But I always think about what to call my characters.  They are not named without consideration and consequence.  It’s an odd feature of being an author–we create people, living, breathing human beings on the page–and we must name them.

What Are the Different Parts of a Book?


For The Eye Dancers, the protagonists were inspired by real-life friends of my childhood.  Each character’s initials mirror those of my actual friends, so Mitchell Brant is inspired by the real-life “MB,” Ryan Swinton by “RS,” Marc Kuslanski by “MK,” and so on.  Beyond that, why Mitchell Brant?  Why Marc Kuslanski?  Why Joe Marma?  Like Galen when I was four, something popped.  The neurons fired.  The names felt right.  It’s the kind of thing where . . . you know it when you see it (or hear it).  It’s more an art than a science. The Eye-Dancers (9780692262788): Fedison, Michael S., Gaston, Matt: Books


So much of writing, creating, exploring, imagining, is.

The main thing is–when you write for your characters, when you craft their dialogue, personas, loves, hates, dreams, fears, hopes, and aspirations . . . invest in them.

Maybe even as much as I did when I was four with my favorite character from Planet of the Apes.

AusReprints - Planet of the Apes (Marvel, 1974 series) #5


Thanks so much for reading!


30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dragthepen
    Sep 30, 2020 @ 21:03:44

    Wow. What a great story. I too didn’t like my name Jacqueline, people called me Jackie, my parents hated Jackie. When I got married at 24, I legally added Rahshemah to my name. I am known as Rahshemah, and my son gave me my writers name J. R. Floyd.


  2. joannerambling
    Sep 30, 2020 @ 22:53:19

    A great tale that I liked my name is Jo-Anne NOT Joanne notice the diffeerence I also don’t mind Jo NOT Joe and never Joey……..just saying…………….


  3. Lyn
    Oct 01, 2020 @ 08:53:52

    Loved Planet of the Apes – yes and Galen. Roddy McDowall did a great job in that role. My parents were going to name me Robyn, but a baby born the same day was named Robyn and screamed all day and night, so they changed their mind and called me Lynette instead. I refuse to answer to Lynette. It’s Lyn or Lynnie or even if you’re very privileged, Lynie-Lou. Great post Mike 😀


  4. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Oct 01, 2020 @ 17:53:38

    Nope. Never liked mine either. OK with it now though. But maybe, before our next incarnation, we could choose our own name and be born with it tattooed on our butts. It should fade within the first few days, of course 🙂 Love your post Galen.


  5. Ste J
    Oct 02, 2020 @ 03:03:31

    This may be controberial but I prefer the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes, I may be in a minority there though. It is an amazing thing when the reader considers that the author has made up a cast for their story, yet we become so invested in the those creations and really share all their experiences, which stay with us and can send us onto who knows what destinations in life.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 04, 2020 @ 11:11:10

      You know, you may be right! My adult self is open-minded about this possibility. My four-year-old self wouldn’t hear of it! And actually, now, I think I’ll go back and watch both the original and the sequel. It’s been a while . . .


  6. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Oct 02, 2020 @ 15:54:10

    I can relate. I didn’t like my name as a kid, either, Mike. Even today, you’ll often find more than one Mary in the room. As a teen, I went as far as changing the spelling to Mari for a while to be different. I liked your story. It gives me insight as to how my boys must have thought about characters from Star Wars.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 04, 2020 @ 11:12:35

      Hi Mary! It’s really interesting. I get the sense that at least 50 percent of kids don’t like their name. It’s odd that something as important and permanent as a name is not our own choice.:)


  7. Sherri Matthews
    Oct 02, 2020 @ 16:23:41

    My son is Michael as we all call him in the family, but everyone else calls him Mike. Hubby is Mike. Only his mother called him Michael. I can see why Galen worked for you, Mike 🙂 Great film btw!


  8. Alexis Chateau
    Oct 06, 2020 @ 01:08:11

    This is an interesting story! I wonder if we all wanted different names as children. I certainly went through phases of insisting on being called something else.


  9. Carla
    Oct 09, 2020 @ 21:33:31

    Wonderful story 🌹🌹🌹🌹I would like to invite you to follow my blog to thank you so much and I wish you much success 🌹


  10. Anna Waldherr
    Oct 25, 2020 @ 16:39:42

    It sounds as if you had a strong sense of identity and a great imagination, even as a child. 🙂


  11. TheDreamGirlWrites
    Nov 03, 2020 @ 06:57:59

    Haha, I love this post!
    And yes so true, when we are writing stories and naming characters we’re breathing life into someone/something. But it is so crucial, because the name you choose kind of gives a peek into the personality of the person. There are many people in our lives that you cannot imagine them having any other name, it’s just not them!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 05, 2020 @ 12:00:00

      Very true. Also–sometimes, when you see someone but don’t know their name, sometimes it’s easy to “name” them. Like, sometimes I’ll see someone and think, “Hmm. He looks like a Nick, or a Bruce, etc.” Maybe it’s just me.:) But I definitely do that sometimes.


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