Saturday, April 17, 2021

What's in a Name?

 Our Round Robin topic for April is: How do you choose your characters' names? Are there any you avoid?

The origin of names goes so far back into history, there is more than one truth or theory, depending on the era, the culture, and what part of the world a character comes from.

 What is clear is that names mostly stemmed from a need for identity and connection within families and communities.

People were often named for the trade in which they were skilled like the English surnames Smith, Baker, Archer, and Tyler, or after the towns or countries from where they originated like York, Hamilton, or French.

First names were often handed down from father to son, mother to daughter, which could get confusing if you had a long line of Edwards or Marys and even more so if, like the boxer George Foreman, all his five sons were named George. Today it seems anyone can name a child anything and often seems more by fancy than reason.

As an author of historical romance, I have most of my work done for me as all I need do is Google the popular male and female names for any given year and go from there. Please note: Google is a starting point, not the be-all and end-all for any type of research. I have also used parish records and names found on tombstones to be full of information, too.

Light from Beyond

Because my settings are mostly English, I can pinpoint the county my characters populate and run a list of names for that area. My next Regency romance is set in the New Forest in the county of Hampshire, England, so I am currently researching surnames from that area in the early 1800s.

Once I have a list of names, I consider how easy those names are to pronounce and if the first and second names not only fit together, but also suit my characters. Into that mix I must consider the intricacies of the British peerage if I include lords and ladies in my books. Burke’s Peerage is an invaluable resource for this.

One thing that I find frustrating is when I come across a name in a book and have no knowledge of how to pronounce it. In this instance Google is my friend, as you can search ‘how to pronounce’ whatever the name is and listen to the result. That is why I would never use an invented name in any of my books unless I can qualify it in some way for my reader to easily understand it.

In my current work in progress, a contemporary western romantic suspense, my female character is Callie. Where did that come from? Her mother (like mine!) loved calla lilies, so I have worked that into the story. It is just a small detail which I think (hope) gives my character a little more reality.

Now I'm going to take a look at what ideas my fellow Round Robing bloggers have to offer. I hope you'll join me.


Skye Taylor

Diane Bator

Anne Stenhouse

Beverley Bateman

Helena Fairfax

Dr. Bob Rich

Marci Baun

Judith Copek

Connie Vines

Fiona McGier

Rhobin L Courtright










  1. Interesting! We all have some of the same ideas behind naming but use different resources. Good post!

  2. Hi Victoria, I think local resources are a must when your work is specific to a county in historical times. People had so little mobility. Have you come across the notion that some employers always used the same name for staff to avoid having to remember a new name when the personnel changed? I think we're all enjoying this month's topic hugely. Anne Stenhouse

    1. I usually try to visit old parish graveyards when I come home to visit. I have a notebook of names that may or may not get used!

  3. Every Callie I've met in books I've liked!! Another thought came to me reading your post is people (our characters) named after favorite actors/actresses or famous people.

    1. Good to know,Skye. That gives me hope that Legacy of Love will be a winner!

  4. Interesting post, Victoria. Thanks for sharing your process.

  5. I have invented names, but, when I do, I make sure you can sound them out phonetically. I'm not a fan of unpronounceable names either. When I wrote my short story set in the Regency period, I was careful not to use a real peerage name as I've heard that pisses them off. LOL

  6. I am in awe of all your reference materials. This is just for names. I expect you do the same for other aspects of your writing?

  7. Victoria, Visiting cemeteries to research names is really a good idea. Floral names, I believe, are an easy way for the reader to bond with the heroine, too.

  8. I love the idea behind the name Callie. I'm also very fond of calla lilies. There is a large Victorian cemetery very near my house. I've often looked at the names and thought about who the people they might have been. A 'Lily' conjures up a very different impression from a 'Gwendoline'.
    I enjoyed your post, and this topic!

  9. You're right about names being passed down in families. My late faither from Glesga was amused that we gave all of our sons Gaelic first names, to go with their Polish last name. But then I'm half and half myself. He told us that if we were following the rules he'd grown up with, the first son is named after the dad's father--with the second son named after the mom's father. You had to have 3 sons to be able to pick a name you liked--even then you were supposed to stick with some relative's name. The first daughter is named after the mom's mother, and the second is named after the dad's mother. I'm really glad we didn't have to do that! I think our kids' names really suit them--much more so than the old-fashioned names they'd have been stuck with.

    BTW, the unintentionally funny scene we all laughed at in the first Batman/Superman Justice League movie was when they're fighting each other ferociously, then they realize that both of their moms are named Martha. So now they don't hate each other anymore? LOL.