01 August 2007

What's in a Name?

The SCA can be a little nutty and extreme in their dedication to all things medieval, but dang if they haven't put together best resource for historical names. In writing Redeeming Will Scarlet, I've used it quite frequently, most recently after receiving a brief bit of feedback from in my crit circle. One woman mentioned that, with my references to Kings John and Richard, my decision to name a character "Richard" might get confusing.

Fair enough. I hadn't even considered the possibility because kings just seem to exist in a different realm for me, creatively speaking. Those are historical figures. My characters are just that -- characters. But I decided to look up a few names, just to avoid any potential confusion.

Consider this about masculine English names from the early 13th century (convenient, coz that's the period I'm researching -- history psychos are fun!):
Thus, the name William and its variants and diminutives was borne by about one of every seven men listed. The five most common names accounted for almost 45% of the men. Not quite two-thirds of the men bore one of the ten most frequent names; and the 14 most popular names account for about three-quarters of the men listed.
Those fourteen names? William, Richard, John, Robert, Hugo, Roger, Walter, Thomas, Ralph, Geoffrey, Henry, Adam, Peter, and Simon.

But when was the last time you read about a romance hero named Roger? Or Ralph? Or even something as basic as Henry? In a quick Amazon search for "England + Medieval" in the romance category, I found heroes named Christian, Saxon, Tobin, Jackson, Jordan, Lyon, James, Conner, and Kendrick. James must be a more modern construct, because it wasn't even on that SCA list. Theobald, yes. James, no.

I write without a point, you say? No, here it is: I cannot stand silly names -- male or female. It's bad enough that fiction all but eliminates the very real possibility of knowing more than one person with the same name. Can you imagine dialogue that read:
"I got an e-mail from Jess today."
"Which Jess?"
"Columbus Jess."
See, that conversation takes place pretty regularly at my house. But not in fiction.

And apparently, good, solid, historically accurate names are just off the table for romance heroes. I can't imagine calling this man Walter, but neither do I want to call him Saxon. And don't get me started on Hunter and Wolf...

So what do you think? Can you forgive modern romance names or do they detract from your reading? What research have you done with your names? Faves? Funny ones?

6 comments:

Camilla Bartley said...

I don't mind traditional names. In fact, I have to stop myself from naming my heroes things like Oliver, Vivian, Courtney or Hilary--names that today are seen as "girl" names or just plain feminine. But that's why I like them: a "feminine" name paired with a masculine hero--wonderful!

I'd take a William, Henry, George, etc over Rafe, Hawk, Lucian,Devlin, etc that populate romance novels and make me roll my eyes and slam the book shut.

Lisa Yarde said...

I have put back those books where the medieval hero's name was Lyon, Saxxe, etc. The reason I remember those names and why I didn't buy the book, is because they seemed ridiculous. A heroine with an equally silly name will also make me put the book aside.

Names are very important for me, because I associate them with origin and period. Lyon may be a distinctive name, but not what I'd have chose for an 11th century Norman knight. Sherrilyn Kenyon's character naming book has been a great reference for me, whenever I need an appropriate name for secondary characters.

Jennifer Linforth said...

Great post!I love looking into names. I admit,it does drive me nuts to see a modern name in a historical.

For my trilogy I researched this extensively and chose names to match not only the time period, but the character traits as well.

My villain’s surnames are Laroque (the rock), Wischard (wiley or shifty) Barret (deceit) and Loup (The wolf)

A hero’s first name is Raoul also meaning the wolf to contrast one of my villans. A secondary character who is an inspector has the surname of Legard (of the guard.

For my historical, Adelrune, Adelrune literally translated means “noble secret”. So right there in one tiny bundle I have my heroine’s name and a hint at the details of the book.

Will readers understand all this? Probably not. But I feel good for not overlooking the tiny details.

PennyAsh said...

Please please please give me an accurate name for the era and the culture. It's really hard to take a hero names like Hawk, Saxon (a people, not a name), Storm, or (heaven forbid) Bubba. Or a heroine named something like Tortilla (a Barbara Cartland novel) With all the name resources out there it should be no problem looking up an appropriate name. Now I do have a hero named Kian Sean but it is a contemporary fantasy and he's Irish and a Puca, but his name is a perfectly good Celtic Irish name :) And another good name resource is your family tree.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Names fascinate me. I love the whole name thing.

What does annoy me is modern names in historicals. It's a pet peeve of mine. LOL

I love traditional names in historical and modern names will stop me from buying the book. Aren't I tough minded? LOL
But I do have a problem with modern names in historicals, as I think that if the writer hasn't bothered to keep to the premise of the historical by giving outlandish names, then they may not have got other research correct either.
As I said, it's apet peeve of mine. LOL

Delia DeLeest said...

Here's a fun and informative naming site. It says it's for your critters, but it would work just well for people, both real and fictional. http://www.lowchensaustralia.com/Names.htm

My biggest challenge in naming my characters is to pick a name that's true to the 1920's without reminding people of their grandparents.