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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Name is Not Inigo Montoya.

by Just Another Debbie from the Fifties...

Naming characters in fiction is just part of the enjoyment. For awhile, romance novels were a testing ground for all sorts of wild, romantic names. In 1975,  no self-respecting romance hero would be named George or Henry.  Generation after generation determines what is acceptable . . .  and then if acceptable is boring or interesting.

Case in point: Top Ten male and female names from 1956. Ahem. 
#1  Michael and Mary
#2  James and Debra
#3 Robert and Linda
#4 David and Deborah
#5 John and Susan
#6 William and Patricia
#7 Richard and Karen
#8 Mark and Cynthia
#9 Thomas and Barbara
#10  Steven and Donna

Good solid names. Who knew Debra would beat out Deborah?  hence the abundance of middle-aged Debbies everywhere I go... not so cute any more, eh? ( My mother said no to Florence by the way)

When I was reading romances in the 70s, the names were all dreamy, unusual. No romance heroine would be named Donna or Patty. More like Tiffany or Stephanie.

But how far does an author go in making up a name?

For a new story set in the first part of the 19th century, in both the US and Britain, an author will do well to stick with the records--easy to find online nowadays such as this list from the U.S. circa 1900.

#1 John and Mary
#2 William and Dorothy
#3 Robert and Helen
#4 James and Margaret
#5 Charles and Ruth
#6 George and Mildred
#7 Joseph and Virginia
#8 Edward and Elizabeth
#9 Frank and Frances
#10 Richard and Anna.

I can tell you that in my grandparents' generation of family names, there was pretty little variety or individualism. Unlike today where people think they are coming up with a new name only to find that 10,000 others thought Madelyn was unusual.

But things did change slowly.
Look at this list from a site claiming to have gathered the most common names of the Georgian Period (a long period during three English King Georges) - 1714-1837:

Mary, Maria, Marianne, Alice, Elizabeth, Eliza, Sarah, Frances, Fanny, Letitia, 
Caroline, Charlotte, Catherine, Rebecca, Hannah, Rachel, Ann, 
Emily, Ellen, Jane, Helen, Ruth, Lavinia, Susannah, Adelaide and Julia

William, John, Edward, Edmund, Peter, Joseph, Charles, Arthur, Anthony, 
Samuel, David, Ernest, Daniel, Benjamin, Alfred, Francis, Robert, Thomas, Philip, Alexander.

 LAVINIA!!! yes! and Letitia. Seriously, girls, don't you wish they hadn't fallen out of favor?  Of course somewhere out there is a Lavinia or Letitia ready to slam the silliness of a name like Debbie. Don't I know it. But it's a free country and you are entitled to my opinion.

The whole point of this post is that we all make associations with names. The old-fashioned names come back after 100 years or so.  So far the names from the fifties are slow to rise. After all, many of these 'old names' sound like someone's grandmother. Who would name their romance heroine after their grandmother or aunt?   (Bertha? I rest my case)

One more list! I love this one. Came from a church in Cornwall (a Celtic corner of England) and is a list of married couples from 1725-1815. Here we are throwing in some real history!

Stephen and Patience
Melchisedeck and Ann
Arthur and Avis
Thomas and Thamasine
William and Philipy
Fraunceis and Damaris
Parmenas and Elizabeth
Eusebius and Dorothy
Jabez and Jenifer
Emmanuel and Honor
Edward and Olympias
Serapion and Elizabeth
Lapidoth and Maria
Carolus and Penelope
Ludovicus and Maria
Uryeh and Philippa
Solomon and Honoria
Jacobus and Dinah
Hugh and Griswel
Sampson and Keturah
Stephen and Bathsheba

So, if you want to go by that list, you pretty much can do any darn thing you want with a name and no one can fault you for your choice.

All this to say...
I never in my lifetime thought that there could be a romance hero named George or Henry.  
But things change...

Ouch. My eyes hurt!
What names do you consider too.. too unromantic to be a hero or heroine's name in a novel?
Are George and Henry still just the names of nerdy boys in your class or your strange uncle? 

So...Strangest names you've come across in a novel lately? (okay fantasy doesn't count) 

And, Happy Birthday to my daughter Tiffany. She was NOT named after a character on Charlie's Angels who debuted a week after she was born in 1979. Really. I thought it was going to be unusual... oh well.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Quite fun and happy to have your opinion!

  3. Hi Tina, Glad to have you stop in. Please stay and chat with us this week. we're lonely :)

  4. I think I saw a book with a hero named Truck. I didn't read it. It bugged me too much. Pamela Morsi used to have some interesting names but fit the era so it never bothered me. Of course I can't think of a single one right now.

    My current wip is set in 1901 with James and Clara.

    For future reference, I'm claiming Melchisedeck and Thasamine for a novel, so back off everyone! ;)

  5. This made me smile. I always have the hardest time with character names. But sometimes a character will pop into my head and he or she simply IS a certain name. That's it. No arguments.

    I wish I knew why. :D

    I hate my name, by the way. Nobody ever gets it right or even repeats it right. For example:

    "Hi. My name is DeAnna Dodson. I need to make an appointment with the doctor."

    "Okay, Diane (Diana, DeAnn, Dina, etc), when's a good time for you?"


  6. Not sure who is the man and who is the woman in Fraunceis and Damaris. I started a sequel to Dandelion with her daughter and the hero was going to be Percivale. Intentionally not romantic. He starts out sort of dorky but grows as the story continues.

  7. DeAnna, you do have a lovely name but I understand the annoyance of mispronunciation with my maiden name. Marvin doesn't get messed up very often!

    Truck. Hmmmm. I'm not sure about that one either but it seems it could work in the right story. (I currently have a "John" as hero. Simple, timeless) I made the mistake of making a name up once and then it took me a year to switch the hero's name in my head. I entered a contest and mistakenly left the old name in one place. duh!

    Dina, Percivale is just fine. Isn't that the Scarlett Pimpernell anyway? Worked well for him as both a Dandy and a Hero, after all.

    That Cornwall list is a hoot!

  8. I am agog with Jabez and Jenifer, followed by runner up favorite, Melkisedeck and Ann.

    If I'd named my Regency folks any of those but Ann, I have a feeling I would get called on it. (I know OT names like Jabez were more popular with the er, lower classes than the high-falutin' ones.)

    What a great idea for a post, Deb.

  9. I'm a fan of weird names in books, or at least not-off-the-top-ten list. Mostly because if I know a real person with the same name, I get them stuck in my head as I read and that gets confusing. My current leads are Sebastian and Tansy.

    I don't love my name either... Everyone thinks it's "Vickie" or "Mickey," and even if they get the "N" they never spell the rest of it right. My own grandmother never did learn to spell it. I suppose I could go by my REAL name... Samantha, named after my dad. At the ripe old age of two I demanded to be called NIKI and wouldn't answer to anything else. Since then, during various "phases" I've gone by Samantha, Nicole, Niki, Nikki, Sam, etc. And apparently I was SUPPOSED to be named Natasha, but my mom changed her mind. I always wonder what I would have turned out like if I'd been a Natasha instead...

  10. Thanks ladies. It came to mind when I was hearing so much about Henry Cavill and thinking how Henry used to be a geeky name.

    And it was a good reason to go looking for photos. ha ha.

    I agree on the class disparity of names, Susie. I happen to love a few of the odd ones. Melchisadek? seriously, that's a mouthful.

    I had an old story where my hero and his brother were named Connor and Duncan. Historically, that would be quite accurate but they had been done to death in romance novels. How many names can one come up with for Highland Heroes?

    Niki, that's quite a story. Pick a name, eh? Sam, Nikki, Natasha. You won't have to worry if you pick a pseudonym... you are practically there!

    I have a heroine right now named Honey. 1764. Born in England, sailed off to the colonies.
    What do you all think?

    No, she's not a wench, thank you very much.

  11. Here's one for you... Love Inspired Suspense author, Rachelle McCalla, has a photo up of her little guy, Knox, holding up a box of Gelatine and grinning away. Her caption reads, "Knox isn't sure why the gelatin is named after him, but he's cool with it."


  12. oh it. I am a fan of unusual names but not sure of some of the extreme ones celebrities choose.

    Knox is great!

    Gina hasn't signed on but she may have the more unusual of children's names in our group. (if you don't count my son Dewey...)

  13. Deb, love it. I pore over baby name lists and social security administration name lists when I'm looking for names. I really like to use ancient Greek and Roman names to give a sense of their classical education.

    Names I have trouble casting as romantic leads? Agnes (sorry Susie), Gertrude, Bertha, Eugene, Francis, Leslie--for a man. I'm a name snob. Sorry.

    One of the more unusual names I've seen in stories is Temperance Brennan (I like it!) it's a good old fashioned puritan name for sure! Or what about Horatio Hornblower! That's a mouthful for sure.