Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Naming characters in a historical novel, in any novel really, takes a lot of thought. Of course when you are writing a historical novel, there's more than the character's personality to consider. First, of course, you have to determine if the name was even used in the time period about which you're writing.

Nationality counts as well. There are Irish names the English would never have used during certain time periods. Other times when certain names were favored. Let me give you an example. During the time of Cromwell, in England's history, biblical names were often chosen for children.

Then you have to consider the character's personality, their background, even their birth origin. A boy born of Russian parents might chose the name of Alexander, where a baby girl born of African American parents might not want a name like Irene of Elizabeth.

If you are writing a contemporary the location of the story matters with a character's name. A southern villain might be a Bobby, not a Robert.

I write historical romance, so where do I get the names I use in my books? Surprisingly, I refer to my ancestors. I have a list of the names of family members going back many years and I've used then on more than one occasion when writing a story set in the US. I used both the first and last name of my great, great grandmother for the heroine of my very first book.

Also, and this may sound creepy, but I also visit cemeteries when we travel to new destinations. I look at the age of the deceased and the year of his or her death and note the information in my notebook so I now have a list of common names appropriate for a certain region of the country or a certain time period.

Of course, if you write fantasy or scfi, you have it made. You can make up the names. But if you write contemporary or historical fiction, you have more about which to worry.
My list of names have made naming characters a lot easier for me. I go through my list,
get an idea of what the name mean, think about my character and usually I can find a
name that fits to perfection.

Naming characters however, can become a real challenge, worse even than naming your baby. Like my current WIP. My hero has changed his name at least six times. One of these day, he'll tell me what he wants to be called, until then I've used my list. After all, characters are almost real people to the authors who write about them. Like I said, I'm waiting for him to tell me what he wants to be called.