Claire Jenkins reads from her winning entry in the Maryland Letters About Literature contest. Two years ago, Claire was a finalist for a letter she wrote about “Winners Take All.” Author Fred Bowen later made Claire a character in the book. (Ken Stanek/KEN STANEK PHOTOGRAPHY)

One of my favorite characters won a big game on Saturday! Claire Jenkins, an eighth-grader at St. John the Baptist School in Silver Spring, won first place in the Maryland Letters About Literature contest.

Letters About Literature is a state and national writing contest created by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress in which students from fourth grade through high school write a letter about an author and how the author’s books changed them.

Kids love contests. They are like games. Almost 59,000 students from around the country wrote letters for Letters About Literature this year, including more than 2,000 from Maryland.

And this year, my character — Claire Jenkins — won!

I call Claire my character because two years ago she wrote her Letters About Literature letter about me and my book “Winners Take All.” Her letter didn’t win (though Claire was a state finalist that year), but I thought the letter was so cool I decided to do something to thank her.

So I renamed a character in “Winners Take All” after Claire. When the updated version of the book came out a few weeks later, the character Claire Montaigne had become Claire Jenkins.

Because I write kids sports books, I need lots of names for the characters in the books. I get the names from different places.

Sometimes I name characters after my friends and neighbors. For example, I named the assistant coaches in my book “Real Hoops” after my friends Craig Hukill and Matt McCracken.

I also make up names by mixing and matching first and last names I find in local school directories. I try to use popular first names by finding out what names were chosen most often for babies born about 10 years ago. I figure those kids will be old enough now to read my books.

In case you are wondering, the five most popular names for baby boys and girls born in 2002 were:

Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Ethan.

Girls: Emily, Madison, Hannah, Emma, Alexis.

I have even auctioned off the right to name a character in one of my books to raise money for a school or charity.

Finally, I use the names of kids who write me letters.

I have received dozens of letters from faraway places such as Henderson, Washington; Watertown, South Dakota; and Mulberry, Florida. I also get them from nearby places such as Silver Spring. That’s how I learned about Claire Jenkins. I was especially happy to put her name in the book because she loved “Winners Take All” so much.

Of course, Claire is becoming such a good writer that maybe someday she will write her own book and name a character . . . Fred Bowen.

Fred Bowen writes a sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 17 sports books for kids. Currently he is working on a baseball book and looking for character names.