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05 October 2011

Names (the never ending dilemma)

There’s been lots of talk about names on one of my historical discussion boards. Some writers are strongly in favor of using only the most popular and common names. Some take their stand behind unusual, but still historically appropriate names. A tiny faction doesn’t care if the name is period, so long as it’s memorable and evocative.


From what I’ve seen just reading period journals and books over the years, a writer is “safe” choosing any of the common names (John, George, William, Thomas, James, Charles; Margaret, Jane, Alice, Ann), Biblical names (Samuel, David, Emanuel, Gideon; Sarah, Ruth, Judith), and almost anything classical (Alexander, Sampson, Hector, Daniel; Octavia, Helen, Dionysia) or historical (Henry, Richard, Stephen; Eleanor, Elizabeth, Catherine).

I went through the first thousand records on ancestry.uk for people born in 1780 and what follows is the list of names I compiled (* next to names that appeared only once):


MEN

Abraham
Adam
Augustus*
Alexander
Alley*
Anthony
Benjamin
Bernard*
Charles
Christopher
Clem
Dane*
Daniel
David
Edward
Emanuel
Evan*
Francis
Frederick
George
Gideon
Grosvenor*
Hector
Henry
Herbert
Isaac
Jacob
James
Jeremiah
Jonathan
John
Joseph
Joshua
Langley*
Lewis*
Magnus*
Mark
Matthew
Michael
Miles
Miller*
Nathaniel
Nicholas
Osbourn*
Peter
Ralph
Richard
Robert
Sampson
Samuel
Stephen
Thomas
Timothy
Valentine
William


WOMEN

Alice
Amelia
Anne/Ann
Barbara
Betty
Bridget*
Caroline
Catherine
Charlotte
Christina
Deborah
Dinah*
Dionysia*
Dorothy
Edith
Eleanor
Elizabeth
Ellen
Emma*
Esther
Eve*
Fanny
Frances
Grace
Hannah
Harriet
Helen
Henrietta
Hester
Innocent*
Isabella
Jane
Johanna
Judith
Julia
Leah*
Louisa
Lydia
Margaret
Margery*
Maria
Martha
Mary
Millicent*
Molly
Nancy*
Octavia*
Phillis/Phyllis
Phoebe
Priscilla
Rachel
Rebecca
Rose*
Ruth
Sarah
Sophia
Susan/Susanna/Susannah
Theresa
Thomasina*
Zenobia*

What do you as readers or writers think? Do you prefer your romances between a George and a Harriet, or a Magnus and a Zenobia (or a George and a Zenobia)? Or do you not care if authors all use the same ten names over and over and over (I think my Georgianna and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Georgiana are both memorable and discernable).

6 Comments:

Blogger Laura's Reviews said...

I prefer romances between a George and a Harriet rather than a Magnus and Zenobia. I feel distracted by odd out of place names in period romances.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Out of place, yes, but there's a difference between out of place (which I interpret as historically inaccurate) and uncommon (but perfectly accurate). I like a mix of both. Usually this is easy because our hero’s have titles. But I’m writing younger sons now, so their Christian and Surnames are doubly important as I have no third option to fall back on.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Beebs said...

Hi Isobel

I prefer names that at least sound historically accurate. (I wouldn't have a clue if they weren't anyway).

I think modern sounding names, for instance something like Cindi and Corey, would pull me out of the story.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Barbara Monajem said...

I love classical names... Lately I've been going through a book on Roman women for cool names, so Octavia appeals to me. I used Pompeia in one of my stories.

I agree about anything too modern, but before getting all bent out of shape about a name, I would check to see whether the modernity was reality or just my perception. And if the writing was great, I wouldn't let it bother me.

I also like virtues names -- Innocence, Prudence, Patience, Temperance (one of my vampires!), etc., although I would probably be unable to stop myself from using them tongue-in-cheek.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

As an author and reader, I prefer historical sounding names. But they must be spelled so I can pronounce them, says someone who loves to wander among non-British Isles tales.

As an author, I love to research names. But this has led me into some tricky predicaments. For my thirteenth century knight from northwestern Spain, the period records only offered about a dozen first names for an upper class Christian male. More choices would have been nice.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I avoid virtue names like Temperance, Prudence, etc. because during the period they're specifically associated with dissenter religious sects. So unless her being from such a background is necessary to the plot, those names are pretty much off-limits.

7:35 AM  

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