Thursday, October 9, 2008

What's in a Name?

One of the funnest things about (a) being pregnant, or (b) writing a novel, is you get to pick out names. (There are actually a lot of similarities between being pregnant and writing a novel, but I won't go into that here.) Suffice it to say that in each case, choosing a name is one of the first decisions you make. And it's a biggie.

Here are some questions I ask myself when picking names for my characters.
  • Is the name appropriate to the time period and to the character's station in life? This might require a little research, but nothing too heavy. A couple of years ago I found a nice list of Victorian-era names on-line, printed it out, and stuck it in a notebook. I also had to brush up on titles, correct forms of address, and peerage basics. If you watch a lot of Jane Austen movies, you've got a good start in this department. ;)

  • Is the name clearly masculine/feminine [to correspond with the character's sex]? I once read a historical romance where the hero had a feminine-sounding name, at least by today's standards. It threw me for a loop throughout the story. Very jarring in love scenes.

  • Do the hero and heroine's names begin with different letters? It's tempting to have an "Alec & Abigail or a "Benjamin & Beatrice," but if you like to use first initials when brainstorming/plotting, it's just not worth it. Trust me.

  • Is is somewhat original? But not too original? I try to find names that are familiar, but not terribly overused. I'm not always successful though. Kind of like finding out there are four kids in your daughter's preschool class with her name.

  • Is the name subtle? I like names that are a bit surprising. For example, I had a tomboyish heroine that I gave the ultra-feminine name of Isabella. The heroine in my wip is named Patience, but she's always tapping her toe and gnashing her teeth over something. :)

  • Does the name roll off your tongue when you read it aloud? I try to avoid names that are hard to pronounce or trip me up for whatever reason. But I liked the name "Rhys" (pronounced "Reese") so much I broke my own rule.

  • How do the hero and heroine's names sound together? Hopefully, when they're paired up, they have sort of a "Romeo & Juliet" quality. Here are my couples: Isabella & Owen, Amelia & Craven, Phoebe & Rhys, and Patience & Simon. *Sigh*

Cool link: This is a fun little program that creates all sorts of combinations of Regency names.

What about you? If you're a writer, what are your hero/heroine's names? How did you pick? If you're a reader, what kinds of names do you like?


Keli Gwyn said...


I love choosing my characters' names. Like you, I do my research first to be sure the names are period appropriate, and then I roll the combinations off my tongue until I'm satisfied with they way the two names sound together.

Here are my couples, all from historicals set in California in the 1870s:

John and Margaret, whom he calls Maggie

James and Rebecca, whom he calls Becky

Miles and Elenora, whom he calls Ellie

Flynt and Jessica, whom everyone calls Jessie

Ross and Adelaide, whom everyone calls Addie

I learned at Nationals that Addie has seen a great deal of use in historicals recently, so I'm rethinking that one.

Anne Barton said...

Hi Keli! I *love* your characters' names. I'm partial to James and Rebecca, maybe because I know a little about their story. :)

And I totally forgot about nicknames/pet names. Yours are great. They tell a lot about a character--probably more than their given name.

Addie is nice--it has a historical feel to it, yet it wouldn't be out of place today. AND it's in the title of your GH finaling manuscript, ADDIE'S CHOICE. I'd stick with it. :)