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?