The Lehane Name Game

Dorchester native Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, The Given Day, comes out on 9/23, and has already been optioned for the same Hollywood treatment that three other books of his have received. If Lehane tradition continues, we can expect one certain difference between page and screen: A character’s name will be changed.

It’s been done in all three of his movies. The book Mystic River featured Jimmy Marcus; in the adaptation, Sean Penn played Jimmy Markum. Remy Broussard of the book Gone, Baby, Gone became Ed Harris’s Remy Bressant. According to Lehane, it also happened in the film version of Shutter Island, due out in 2009. And it could affect The Given Day next, thanks to the same quirk of movie-making logistics.

STEP 1: MAKE A LIST Studios check character names against the phone books of cities in which their movies are set. If they find a match, sometimes they alter the name to avoid a defamation lawsuit. "What if you have a character who’s a lousy lawyer named James Lopes?" says James Lopes, a Boston-area entertainment lawyer. "You’ve got a problem. It’s a long lawsuit."

STEP 2: LET IT GO Lucky for the studios, Lehane doesn’t argue. "There are so many other things a movie could screw up beyond repair," he says, "that a name change doesn’t even give me pause." That’s not to say his characters’ monikers aren’t meaningful. He sometimes names them after friends, as he did with Bridget Kearns in Shutter Island, or changes them multiple times until they feel right.

STEP 3: NEXT UP To see if any character from The Given Day might need a new name, we checked the Boston phone books and found one prime possibility: Edward McKenna. In the novel he’s a corrupt cop during the Boston policemen’s strike of 1919. In real life he’s a South Boston lawyer, representing families in child custody disputes. But rest easy, studio execs—the lawyer doesn’t mind sharing his name. "I don’t care, as long as the police officer isn’t a child molester," McKenna says. "If he’s taking kickbacks of whatever, I don’t care. It happened long before I was born."