Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Finding People: First, You Need to Know the Correct Spelling of the Name

Posted by Writing PIs on December 26, 2011

One investigative activity we do more than any other is find people.

We find people who are witnesses; long-lost friends; people who might know how to contact a witness; people we need to serve legal papers to; relatives who might know where their cousin, uncle, aunt, grandmother might be…the list goes on and on.

How Do You Spell That?

When looking for a person, the first (and most critical) task is to get the correct spelling of the name. Sounds simple, right? Simple in theory, but it can take some work to get it right. The problem is, lots of people think they know how a name’s spelled — or guess how it’s spelled — and that information filters down to the investigator.

A smart private investigator first asks the source for the spelling of the name, and then double-checks it. For example, a lawyer tells the private investigator to find Sammie Smith. The investigator should ask if Sammie is spelled “Sammie” “Sammy” or does the person go by “Sam” or “Samuel” — and although the name “Smith” sounds like a no-brainer, we’ve gone off the wrong course looking for someone with the surname Smith when actually it was spelled Smythe!

Got Any Other Data?

Of course, a good PI also asks for any other data associated with the name to further narrow the field of people with that same name & spelling. For example, it’s helpful to also have an address or city where the person resides/resided, a date of birth, the name of a spouse, etc.).

What City Does This Dude Live in?

Recently, we read a private eye novel where a criminal told the private eye he should check out a person by the name of (making one up here) Langley Rogers. The private eye didn’t ask any questions (like “How do you spell that?” or “What city does this dude live in?” or “How old’s Langley?” or even “Langley’s a guy, right?”). No, the private eye heard the name, then mentioned it to a police detective who also didn’t ask any questions.

Later in the story, this police detective gets in touch with the private eye and says, “I ran this Langley Rogers in my database. He’s had trouble with the law. He lives in [name of city] but don’t say you heard it from me.”

Uh, did the detective look up a guy whose name is spelled “Langley,” Langlee” “Lang-Lee” (and so on) with the last name spelled “Rogers,” “Rodgers” or ? Even if this fictional detective lucked out and got the spelling right, how many people are named Langley Rogers throughout the U.S.? Could be dozens. Which one is the right guy?

If you’re writing a story and a character says to your sleuth, “Hey, get in touch with Cindy Jones. She knows who killed Max,” your sleuth would be smart to ask, “That’s Cindy with a y, right?”…even smarter to also ask if Cindy/Cindi Jones lives in the neighborhood, how old she is, her husband’s name…

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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