Friday, September 10, 2010

What's Your Name?

I have a thing about names. It comes, perhaps, from having a strange name and reading and hearing new names, turning the sounds of it in my head, wondering if that name would fit me better than the one I have. Plus, names do tell a story--as was illustrated by an 11th-grade paper an English teacher had us write about our names and their meanings (Ann=graceful. Rei (from Reiko)=pleasant. Hahahaha!) and how we got them.

Character names usually come to me with the character or the story idea. Eva in Last Request was always Eva Fontaine--though, apparently, I've used the name Eva in other things I've written. Brixton was originally called Grayson--that is, until my nephew was born and he was named Grayson. Considering what Brix goes through in Last Request, that's just wrong. Thus, Brixton, which sounded suitably WASP-y and is from "Guns of Brixton," a Clash song, which was released not long before Brix and Eva would've been born.

In my fanfics, the Mary Sue character was usually called Amanda or Anna, to give it that bit of distance between moi and them.

In the romance novel, my main heroines are named Alexandra, Madeline and Laura. Very girly, classic names that were used in the 1790s, when they were born. Think of Jane Austen's characters, for example. They don't have outlandish names, but because she was writing about her own time, the names are normal, appropriate and, as this article pointed out, say something about the characters or their parents. At the time, ancient Greek and Roman culture was all the rage, which is how Alexandra came to be. Madeline is French, but was used for English girls and Laura is just one of those names, isn't it?

I don't usually have issues naming my main characters at all and the secondary characters often name themselves as a I move along.

But this time, since I'm writing an outline of a story set between 1510 and 1540 in England, the Tudor era, names became a little more complicated. You see, in the middle Middle Ages, the names were Norman inspired. Lots of Isabels and Alines and, yes, Williams and Johns.

But by the Tudor era, it seems that everyone was named John, William, Henry, Robert, Edward and Thomas, while all the women are named Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, Margaret, Jane and Catherine/Katherine. Think about it. Henry VIII's wives were named Katherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Katherine and Catherine. His kids were named Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward. It's incredibly boring, name-wise.

The protagonist is named Ignatius--a bit of a family joke, it's my uncle's awful Confirmation name, and it's Latin, originally Etruscan. His parents are name Clement and Alice, who later takes the name Benedicta when she becomes a nun. Alice's brother is named Robert. His wife is Mary, his daughter Margaret. Another character is named Tom, another Agnes, I have a Sister Catherine, a woman named Cecily (which is a cool name, for the time)...

But what to name the sort-of heroine? I thought Anna, but it was too close to Agnes for me. So I was Facebook chatting with a dear friend, who gave me many suggestions ("Victoria? Joan? Joyce? Lettice---no, wait, that sounds like a salad") and we decided that Grace was the best of them, era-appropriate, area-appropriate (England, before the Reformation), and not resembling a salad. Yay!

As the outline grows, I'll have to name other characters. Ignatius travels through France, Germany, Italy, and then along the Silk Road into Central Asia and the Holy Land. So--time and language-appropriate names will have to be thought of.

In fact, as my friend and I were trying to name Grace, I was going through Wikipedia, looking at the list of names for the House of York (Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville's kids), then the extensive Dudley family (they had a son named Ambrose and an infant who died named Temperance), and other noble families of the day; some of them had 13 kids. I thought--there must be variety there!!

Rarely. They almost always named children after relatives or the parents or godparents. Or if a child died young, a younger sibling would be named the same thing.

A few blogs on names: Word Wenches.

Do you have go-to names in your stories? Do you have characters' names you love--and did they illustrate personality or place or time? What is your favorite name?

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