naming woes, part two

So here’s the problem, really. I keep embarking on projects (short stories, novels, games) where the people — the guys in particular — need to have relatively mainstream English names, the sort that have been used historically. And when you get down to it, there aren’t a lot of those. And the more of these projects I build up, the more of the mainstream names I’ve used for major characters, such that I would feel weird then applying them to someone else.

But at this point, it means I’m hesitant to name anybody Julian, Robert, Leonard, Roger, Luke, James, Gregory, Edward, or Jacob, just to choose the most major ones. If I let Memento get in there, I have to add in Thomas, William, Simon, Francis, Stephen, Philip, Jacob again, Christopher, Archibald, and Nicholas. “Nine Sketches” also used Nathaniel, Francis again, Charles, Richard, and Jonathan. I could keep going, but you get the point; a lot of the common names have strong associations for me already.

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing left. I haven’t had anybody important named Henry (except oops, there will hopefully be the thing about Henry Welton someday) — okay, George (wait, that’s Caroline’s husband) — how about Samuel (Eleanor’s father) — crap. And some of my remaining choices, I don’t like very much; Andrew isn’t one I’m particularly fond of. Some of the names are currently reserved by future projects; others are bound up in old projects, and I face the question of whether I think I’ll ever resurrect them, or whether I should just go ahead, cut The Kestori Hawks loose as unusable, and free up half a dozen names for other people to have. (Assuming I can. Assuming my subconscious will let go of the idea that “Leonard” means that guy, the one over there, with all the angst.)

Oh yeah. And then, because I’m not having issues enough, there’s the problem that if I name a character in the Elizabethan period Gabriel, most of you will roll your eyes at the slightly flashy name, and a few will run screaming and waving your copies of the Lymond Chronicles. My own work isn’t the only association I have to watch out for.

I should name the guy John and be done with it, but it just doesn’t work. And I’m not yet to the point where my subconscious is ready to reuse things. For secondary characters, sure. But not the main ones.

Which is how I end up with ideas like Peregrine Thorne. But that isn’t his name — though whoever’s name it is, he looks interesting — so I keep working.

0 Responses to “naming woes, part two”

  1. maribou

    I always liked Tobias, personally.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve only ever met one guy with that name (Tobias Buckell, fellow writer), so that’s where my mind instantly goes. But even with that aside, it falls into the category of Sure, But It Isn’t This Guy’s Name.

      Like, oh, everything else I’m coming up with. <sigh>

  2. unforth

    Hmm…well, there’s Percival, Benjamin, Peter…I could probably think of more but my brains not working very well. 🙂 …uh…Archibald, Sebastian, (runs through a few more Changeling characters, oops…)…Michael…

    • Marie Brennan

      This piece has a historical setting, so I’m trying to stay relatively faithful to which names were actually used at the time. Percival and Sebastian, for example, were not. I’ve got lists to choose from; the issue is that nothing on the lists is clicking yet. My front-running candidates at the moment, though, are Rafe, Geoffrey, Michael, Philip, and Alexander. Not the most common, but at least not weird at the time. I have a feeling that if I can figure out what his last name is, I’ll know which first name to use — but that’s an entirely bigger and uglier kettle of fish.

      • unforth

        Ah, I only thought of Percival because of the Scarlet Pimpernel. 🙂 I’m not sure what the time period in question is precisely, so I’m not surprised they’re not all that helpful. When in doubt, turn to the bible – Ezekial, Adam, Matthew, all that jazz.

  3. claripup

    Michael… Andrew… David

  4. diatryma

    Still haven’t read Lymonds 5 and 6 (wait a week, then we’ll see). But those had a serious lack of different names. Everyone was a Mary or a Margaret.

    At one point in planning the novelish, I had three characters named Alessann. It was a little confusing, even though only one was ever present at a time. Like you said, there’s *one* person with that name.

    Girl names are easier. Could you play with diminutives a lot?

    • Marie Brennan

      I find it odd that you should say that about Dunnett, since that isn’t my impression at all. I can think of three Marys in the series, all of them historical (de Guise, Stuart, Tudor), and two Margarets, one historical (Lennox) and the other not (Erskine). Maybe I’m forgetting some? But the central female characters have variety: Sybilla, Eloise, Christian, Kate, Philippa, Joleta, Oonagh, Marthe, Guzel, Camille, and so on. And among the men, most of the Johns, Thomases, Jameses, etc. are historical figures or else not very central. There, again, you have variety: Francis, Richard, Gavin, Wat, Will, Robin, Andrew (Dandy), Jerott, Graham (Gabriel), Danny, Alec, Archie, Fergie, Cormac, Mikal, etc.

      If anything, Dunnett shows too much variety. Seventy percent of men in Elizabethan times were named John, Thomas, William, Richard, or Robert.

      • diatryma

        The historical part of the names kept confusing me. It seemed like every third person was a Douglas, and half of them were Margaret.
        Then again, it can take me a year or two to put together that two people I know in actual life are one person, so it’s entirely possible I couldn’t tell in fiction. You mentioned teaching yourself to read the books; I have to teach myself to remember more characters than are onstage.

        Is that seventy percent of Scots, English, or European men in general?

        • Marie Brennan

          <g> Then blame history, not Dunnett. Every third person involved in Scots/English politics at that time was a Douglas. Or married to one or descended from one other otherwise related to one.

          The stat is probably for Englishmen, and it’s true that of the names I listed off from the series, not all of them are English or even Scottish.

  5. sora_blue

    Names are tough, and I feel your pain. I can’t do anything with a character, either, until I know their name.

    How about “Matthew?”

  6. Anonymous

    last name?

    I’ve just read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in which Norrell identifies much more by his last name than by his first. When there’s reason to spell the whole thing out (Gilbert Norrell), it’s notable and slightly uncomfortable. Maybe that could be useful?

    Strange also identifies more strongly by his last name when talking to business acquaintances. Jonathan is what his wife calls him.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: last name?

      I intend for that to be 90% of how I get around having 70% of the guys be named John, Thomas, William, Richard, and Robert. But since this is a main character, and there will be people who use his first name, I need to make sure it’s one that fits in my head.

      It was customary in times past to use last names almost exclusively, though. Which might explain why they didn’t feel a strong need for more variety in given names.

  7. daobear

    I’ll put in a plug for Henry. 🙂

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