WHY DO CHARACTERS HAVE TO HAVE NAMES?

How do you come up with names for your characters? It is a question I am frequently asked. The short answer is: not easily! For one thing, most of my books are set in Regency England  and I have to be sure that any name I choose was in use then or that at least I can justify its use. And there is the problem of the fact that I have written more than 100 novels and novellas, and each of them has a hero and a heroine and a whole host of secondary characters, all of whom need names. First names and surnames. And very often title names as well since, as is customary in Regency historicals, most of the characters are of the upper classes, often the aristocracy. Oh, and most of them live in country homes that have names and in London houses that also have names. Why do characters and their properties have to have names?

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Sometimes the flow of my writing is halted while I sit for five or ten minutes just thinking up a name for a minor character–and drinking my coffee. And occasionally I dream up names like Leonard Bruce and Peter Jennings (both of them in the book I have just finished writing) because I don’t watch much television or know many other celebrities. My editor kindly pointed out the problem this time, and those two minor characters are now Leonard Burton and Peter Jenkins. Of course, I do have a family called Huxtable in one series with one daughter named Vanessa! No one whispered “Bill Cosby” in my ear until after First Comes Marriage was published.

In recent years, in North America anyway, new parents often go out of their way to give the new child an unusual, distinctive name. Any combination of letters is acceptable provided, I suppose, there is at least one vowel or vowel equivalent thrown in. Not so in Regency England! It does seem that a very large number of men were George or Charles or Robert or John or one of a few other staples, while women tended to be Charlotte or Jane or Louisa or Elizabeth. It’s not easy to come up with a different and acceptable name for more than 100 heroes and heroines. It’s impossible, in fact. I have repeated several names. I have repeated them many times for secondary characters.

It is, however, possible to use more unusual names provided the name can be justified in its historic context. The Bedwyns, for example, do not have conventional names–Aidan, Rannulf, Freyja, Alleyne, Morgan, Wilfric. I invented for them a mother who loved to read Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature and chose names for her children accordingly. The old duke must have been quite accommodating on the naming of his children. Names of Latin and Greek origin are acceptable because all gentlemen and many ladies had a classical education. I have a Constantine and a Marcus and a Cassandra. Sometimes I come across an unusual name that actually belonged to someone living in the era–Sydnam, for example. Another consideration when choosing names is making them suit the character. I have occasionally had all sorts of difficulty bringing a hero or heroine to life on the page until I realized that he/she had the wrong name! I have heard other writers say the same thing.

I must admit I am a bit careless in my choice of title names. I draw them out of the air. Someone asked me a while ago if I choose them by looking at a list of British titles that were in abeyance and therefore fair game for my use.. I felt a bit like a deer caught in the headlights. Ought I to have been doing it that way? I have made a blooper at least once. Mary Gregg, heroine of The Notorious Rake, is the widowed Lady Mornington. Mornington was the title name of the Duke of Wellington’s brother. I would have avoided it if I had remembered in time.

One thing I wish I had done from the start of my career (new writers, take note!) is to make an index of all the names I have used–first names, surnames, title names, property names and in which book they appeared. It would be a gargantuan task now but would help out a great deal in preventing unintentional duplications. Readers occasionally ask me if a certain character is related to another character of the same name in another book. Often the answer is no–I had simply forgotten that I had used the name before. Being prolific has its problems!

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To someone who leaves a comment before the end of next Tuesday, August 27, I will send signed copies of both THE PROPOSAL and THE ARRANGEMENT in honor of the fact that the latter is to be published that day. Last week’s winner was Joyce Medley.

 

146 thoughts on “WHY DO CHARACTERS HAVE TO HAVE NAMES?

  1. I’d be willing to bet there are at least a few readers who could help you out with cataloguing your character’s names. I believe I have read that some have created family trees and friendly connections for some of your series.

  2. I have always wondered how authors were able to come up with names and remember those names if author of many books and not repeat a name. SOme names I wouldn’t name my child now, but when I read historical romances they just fit

  3. Well, be comforted that when I read Vanessa Huxtable I never connected it with Bill Cosby. Maybe because I am completely sunk into the time and places that you create. You are one of my favorites. Hope I can get signed copies of these two books of yours!!

  4. I am grateful that you are prolific writer, I enjoy all of your books. I never thought of how it could be difficult at times to find era specific names. I thought naming children was hard, but I only have four and you have hundreds.

  5. I hadn’t realized until lately how much research that historical romance writers would (or should) have to do. Names, titles, places, clothing, food…it never ends. Wow, that’s a lot of work! 🙂

  6. I must admit that I get involved in the story that I am reading and although I am familiar with all the characters and the titles of the people that I am reading, I don’t think back to other books, unless they are in a series.

  7. I never made the Vanessa Huxtable connection! I think a challenge would be naming villains, so tempting to pick a name of a ‘sandpaper person’ in your life

  8. The question shouldn’t have been how do you think up names…it should have been how do you keep the names straight after writing that many books. I mean, jeeze, I call my kids and grandkids the dogs’ names at times, and I only read the books. Love your work, keep ’em coming!

  9. I usually make random plots in my head and making up names are one of the really hard parts! I can totally relate to how you have to pause for a few minutes or so just to think of a name. Sometimes it gets in the way of my train of thought that I forget the plot I was working to begin with. I imagine it is harder for you to think of those names, what with the setting and the requirements of the time period. I usually try to avoid using names of people I know in real life, do you?

    • Yes, I avoid that too, Jaryn, though I did name the heroine of the next book, THE ESCAPE, after the sister of a lady who won the right to a character name in a blind auction.

    • Mary balogh is the best using the plots of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen combined. She is English and a good writer. Her plots, names , titles , ambience are ready for her to use. At least , her plots are beautifully crafted and she has finesse to connect the words with a very good taste a sense than the American copycats

  10. I could probably help you out with that list… My sister and I had a journal going with names, titles, and major plot lines of all the books we read, so we could double check while in the book store to be sure we didn’t re-buy a book! LOL It also helped once your characters started crossing over into each other’s books. It was quicker than pulling the books out and flipping through them to try to remember who was who.

  11. Character names are always interesting. Sometimes they reflect the character’s character. It adds to the enjoyment of reading.

  12. I watched the Cosby Show and I never thought of it when reading your series. Vanessa Huxtable was your creation and stood on her own merit.

  13. I have it easier with naming my animals because each baby Carries the sires initials after the herd name of where they were born and is in theme with the dams name…easy to follow and track down 🙂
    I’d gladly catalogue all your characters! I have them all for the Bedwyn series 🙂
    If characters didn’t have named how could you follow? To be authentic each “noble” character has a Christian name and a title…(even more to keep up with lol)
    I like the property names. How else would one identify the properties?
    I can see it being hard to not reuse names. I adore your and have read them many times but even I have to admit recalling some characters and which homes they live in can take concentration.
    I think it’s neat that within the time frame different ranks (classes) had different sets of names & nicknames or shortened versions are different than those we use today.
    Keep writing. I love going back in time and “being” one of your characters. I like pretending I’m these sassy, witty, beautiful ladies who capture and tame the rogues. I especially like the dark rogues with imperfections who fall the hardest in love 😀

  14. I suppose I just assumed there was some sort of list you, (and other authors), consulted, because of the time period. What an interesting topic. I am intrigued by names and origins and enjoy discovering the names of distant ancestors. If my collection of your books had been returned, (loaned to an acquaintance a few years ago), I would be tempted to index all those names for you! 😉

  15. I would say that having a name makes the characters more real to the reader. It is important to try to make the names consistent with the time and place. Your writings need to be more precise for that then a fantasy or sci fi that might have a more exotic or outrageous name. I had to chuckle when I saw the Peter Jennings possibility!
    I do love your regencies! Thanks for sharing entertainment through your fine writing.

  16. I actually picked up one of your books at a library just by just looking at the cover, One Night for Love, and could not put it down. The next thing I knew I was done with the book the next day at 5 am and could wait for the library to open so I could get something else that was written by YOU. I can’t wait for the release of these books and look forward for you, thru your writing, to take me to another place and time. Thank you!

  17. Fascinating! I love the Bedwyns unique names, and I like Sydnam’s name as well. I appreciate the way you share more of your writing process with us through this blog. It always makes me enjoy your books even more!

  18. I have had those problems too… and I’m not even published! (Yet. I haven’t given up hope.) I think there must be an emotional connection to names that sound a certain way and we equate boldness, handsomeness, stability, etc. with them. It’s hard not to think of a certain name or word sound together when an emotion fills you. In my first novel I set the story in medieval Poland during the events that led up to the Battle of Tannenburg. I must have a romantic/loving energy with the name Casimir because I wanted to all the Polish men to be labeled with that particular moniker. I had to wait a few years, but now my youngest son’s middle name is Casimir. (I fought for that over a lot of controversy and my son will probably hate it.) The names we love fill us with peace and thrill us. It’s no surprise you have found yourself recycling.

  19. I hope some of your books will be made into movies. It is fun to see the characters come to life.

    Also I bet children will be named after some of your characters. It has probably already happened?

  20. I love all you books that I have read. I am only missing a few. I wondered how you came up with some of the names. I agree it would be hard trying to not reuse a name especially with the time period.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  21. Well, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are taken… so I suppose the purpose of names is to avoid confusion foremost 🙂 Seriously, giving characters a name makes them more human and more easy to relate to as a reader. Keep up your prolific penning!

  22. I thought that the Bedwyn name theme was a great original strategy that made sure that your characters would not be mistaken for anyone else’s. For other character names, I would imagine that a copy of Debrett’s from that era would be really helpful.

  23. Once you’ve decided on a name, do you ever change it before finishing the book? Do you try googleing the names to see if you get a hit that might make you want to change it? That sounds like a great project for an assistant/volunteer.

  24. I guess I never thought about there not being that many different names back then like there is now. I always thought that writers knew the names to begin with. Thanks for giving insight into the writing process and letting us know that names are not that easy.

  25. I have wondered how historical romance authors, such as yourself, come up with appropriate period names. I can understand the difficulty. If you are looking for a unique name for your next heroine, Rhea is the name of a Greek goddess. She was the mother of Zeus, wife to Cronus lol. I am also glad that you are such a prolific writer.

  26. Wow! I never realized how complicated naming characters was!!! I always enjoy it when there’s a “theme” to the names of siblings in books…like sisters named floral names – Daisy, Lily, Violet, Daphne – or like the Bedwyn’s having Nordic names 🙂 Thanks for the info Mary…so cool getting an insider’s take on things!

  27. I have been reading your books for many years and have always enjoyed the names you choose. I have wondered if you have to choose names for titled characters based on non-existent titles or if you can use actual titles.

  28. Interesting question! Mary, did it ever happened to use a name that another author used also in her story without knowing it . How can you verify this! Lots of research most be done! It would be great to get the chance to win THE PROPOSAL and THE ARRANGEMENT, in exchange, I could write a review to say “thank you”

    • I haven’t heard of using the same name (I assume you mean first name and surname) as another writer, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it has happened.

  29. I enjoy reading your blog entries for that peek-behind-the-curtain of a writer’s life. Don’t recall offhand whether you’ve used it before, but feel free to use Judith for a character name. 🙂

  30. As a new author I’m taking note of your suggestion and making a spreadsheet of names now!

    It’s a bit easier writing during the American Revolutionary War, as people were already getting creative with names on this side of the pond. I’ve taken quite a few from my own genealogy, and they are entertaining (I have an ancestor named Freedom, can you guess when she was born?). Other sources I’ve used for names are church records, tax rolls, census records and lists of slaves. My problem is getting lost in all the choices. I’m sure that will go away as I write more books.

  31. I appreciate that you make the effort to choose a period appropriate name for your characters. One thing I dislike, sometimes to the point of refusing to read the book, is when an author chooses a modern name for an historical character. You probably already know, but research libraries have many books on names and when and where they came into common usage. Not baby name books by the way, but actual scholarship.

  32. There are a few books where a protagonist has no name, but it’s difficult to work around. The only romance I can think of is “Rebecca”, where the second Mrs. DeWinter’s first name is never offered. But her lack of a name is a major plot point, as she lives in the shadow of Rebecca. Several detective novels, told in the first person, also have heroes with no names, and some Western movies (think of Clint Eastwood) have no-name heroes. But in general, names are necessary. Since you almost always include characters from other books in your novels, I think you would do your readers a great service if you included family trees. They don’t have to be very complex, but it would help us remain in the flow of the story more easily.

  33. Ever so often I’ve read a book where the author may have used a baby name book to find names and neglected to leave the letter she or was searching. Too many names beginning the same letter is a problem to read.

  34. I think that by giving the characters is your stories names the readers can identify with create a more believable story and one that as an avid reader I enjoy. I suspect choosing period names would be very difficult. I wthank you for such ongoing creativity.
    Sue

  35. Naming has always been interesting. As more of us research our genealogical records we see how people took the name of where they lived, or how every other generation male had the same name, or the same first name. How exciting for you to add the levels of aristocracy. No wonder men were called by their titles and the women by their name or their husband’s.
    Or how all the footmen in one household were called the same, etc. No name tags then: Hello, my name is….
    All cooks were called Cook and so on.
    I grew up in a wonderful large generational family where the great uncles gave extra names to everyone. It was always a surprise to discover people really had names other than those bestowed – a real frontier or Native American practice I guess.
    Why names? So everyone is not called “Hey, You!” So we know you wrote which book. “Hey, Mary!”

  36. Ahh What’s in a name? I work at a School and I find it fascinating these days the names I come across with while registering students, not just names but spelling of names, Mary is no longer Mary but Mheeri, makes you miss the good old names with when children had good old biblical names like John, David, Thomas, Mary, Sarah.
    I can’t imaging keeping track of some many characters names, and the task of naming them, and their titles and their hopes and sometimes even their pets. It took me a week to name my yorkie Ciaran so really you are great for coming up with all those names.
    I love the Bedwyn’s name specially Freyja.
    I must confess I never made the connection between Vanessa Huxtable and The Cosby Show.

  37. I love your books! I can imagine how hard the names are. I’m working on my first book and the names are driving me crazy. My book is set in current times, so it’s easier to name someone than it would be in the historicals, and it’s STILL hard. LOL It seems like some names just don’t feel right, so I’m keeping at it until something jumps out at me.

  38. I never made the Vanessa Huxtable connection! and I’m an 80’s kid!!! I love reading your books and names, of course I tried to put a few on my baby name lists but hubby veto’d them… apparently he’s not a fan of historical romance :S

  39. I can see how much harder it would be to write historical books & to have a more limited choice of names. Contemporary books can use all of those, plus whatever new names or derivative names have come up since. I am looking forward to reading The Arrangement!

  40. I enjoy the names that come up in your books – both for people and their homes. There is a bit of elegance in the connecting of the homes and titles that make it enjoyable so glad that you do make such an effort. And I’m glad you make the connection to names of the times you write in … my first 2 names are Jean Claire … which sounds French but my mother was English (always wondered why she did that) but also growing up the only people I knew who had Claire (or Clara) as names were 50 years older than me … glad it’s coming back into fashion.

    As always – I do appreciate all the work you put into your writing!

  41. As you pointed out names are time related. Those who have never seen “The Cosby Show” (I had to google that) or are not into British History would never make the connection.
    And if you take all the Regency books ever written, with all the properties in London, every lot in every fashionable street or square has to be built on at least a hundred times… so what compared to that are two characters with a similar name.

    Christine

  42. Phew! I never thought about how complicated the naming of characters can be!

    It’s easier to connect with a character that has a name I can pronounce and doesn’t sound silly to me.

    The name Giles always throws me off. I knew a Frenchman with this name, so my mind always goes to the French pronunciation: “jeel”. I don’t really know the proper pronunciation for this name in English. Weird.

    I love your books Mary. Even if you use the name Giles, I will be a forever reader of your books.

    • Giles is pronounced j ī les. It is the Medieval English form of the Old French saints’ name Gilles and was a name that was passed down in my family for many generations. They lived near Winchester in Hampshire.

      • Thanks Vivian. Although I knew the pronunciation, I didn’t know it was Medieval English. Giles was my grandmother’s surname.

  43. The name of a character is so important because it connects the reader with the story and allows us to decide who will love or dislike.

  44. As names are words and all words have meaning each name has a meaning. For instance my name Lu from Lucille means light. while Ann means gracious, merciful while together it means graceful or gracious warrior. Therefore a character’s name can reveal a lot about them.

  45. I always wondered and thought that all writers had a black or white board where they would have all the names and relations listed, similar to the profiling board in criminal cases, but alas, I have been told now by a few that it is not so. I read to enjoy, but I do come across some die hard fans who tell their fav writers where they stuffed up (especially with names). Some live up to it, some try to talk themselves out of it, I personally don’t mind. S. Laurens has a family tree in her Cynster series and I thought always to do that for a few others (the Bedwyns or the DHs of Sherrilyn Kenyon) as well, but I couldn’t be bothered. When I come across some very creative names I do chuckle occasionally, I also like the explanations for unusual names but I think as it is in our time now Harry, Issac, Liam, Jake, Noah (to name a few), that back then George and James and Edward and Richard were very popular (and Kings!). As well as the tradition to give one’s child the grandparent’s or parent’s name or someone else’s that one is very fond of, might add to the confusion with similar names. I read comments somewhere that readers get sick of all the Jacks in the novels (grin), so I always salute to some really fancy and well suited character names.
    Aristocratic names are much more complicated as they have usually at least three or more first names but are called by their title. I like the hyphenated ones with a Smythe in it. And yes, when I read your Huxtables I thought of Bill C, but only for a short millisecond and then I was back in the story and didn’t mind at all.

  46. Chalk me up as another reader that didn’t make the Vanessa connection!! And I was a huge fan of the show and Bill Cosby! All those names you’ve had to come up with amaze me! I have a hard time naming a new pet!!

  47. Mary, I have read many of your books and right now I can’t check out one of the many books I have of yours because they are all on the moving van on the way back to my hometown of Athens, Tennessee. I am moving back after living in California for almost 39 years. I’ve been homesick a long time. I will miss my kids and grandkids but I miss my sisters especially. They have been begging me to come home ever since our sweet mother passed away in 2001.

    I believe names in books are very important because it helps you to know and remember the personalities of the characters. I have read some books in which I actually did not like the main character (none of yours) because the name either didn’t suit the character or because it was the name of someone I didn’t particularly care for at some point in my life. On the other hand I do love it when you come up with exotic names for your characters. A good name goes a long way both in books and in real life. Thanks for your wonderful books. I have been reading Regency novels since high school. It only took one book for me to be hooked!

  48. Fortunately, book titles aren’t copyrighted. At least your characters have names. In doing research, my great whatever grandma has no name. I can go back as far as John Brockett who came over in the 1600’s but apparently his wife had no name.

  49. I’ve read thousands of books over the years, yet the only names that really stand out and remain unforgotten for me are the Bedwyns. Their personalities and appearances are a wonderful match with their names, especially Freyja and Wulfric.

  50. I read all your “Huxtable” books, each more that once, and while I did think about the name “Huxtable” as being the same as in “The Cosby Show” I never connected “Vanessa Huxtable”! One problem I have with some of the older names is that I have no idea how to pronounce them. One example is Allyene! Never did figure that one out!

  51. I love all your books, and must admit I never gave much thought to the names. I just want to see them more often! I am eagerly awaiting The Arrangement now! Thank you for writing such wonderful stories that make you feel like you know the characters.

  52. Like others have posted the names you give your characters really seem to fit their personalities. It really must be difficult to keep everything straight in your mind and on paper.
    Love all your books!!!

  53. Picking period appropriate names can be tricky. I get names for people from a variety of sources such as histories, my own genealogy research, and the fiction of the time. My stories have a military connection (thank you Bernard Cornwell for introducing me to the 95th Rifles!) and Saturday last I found the perfect book in a quirky little bookstore in San Diego. It’s a Biographical Dictionary of British officers killed or wounded 1808-1814. Names, Glorious Names to play with and rearrange.

    For place/title names, I go to my handy dandy National Geographic (laminated) wall map of the UK and Ireland or pull out my UK road atlas, decide what county, close my eyes and point. Where my finger lands, that’s it. I shy away from Dukes (’cause there weren’t/aren’t that many of them) and I’m rather fond of Barons and Viscounts, with the occasional Earl.

  54. I admit I never gave any thought to the challenge of naming characters. Names are so important. Angeline is a favorite name of mine from the Mistress series. Though not one to name my children after characters or celebrities I know many who have done that. When purchasing a baby name book for a daughter and son-in-law, I was discussing with the check out girl how the trendy names have changed since my oldest daughter was born. She said a lot of people were naming children after characters from a popular teen series. I was in absolute whoops when she said, “People are even naming their sons Edward. That is the most horrible name. How could anyone name a child Edward?” I didn’t tell her I have a wonderful son whose name is Edward (after his great-grandfather). It is not in my control if an author or celebrity uses my child’s name and brings it into fashion (or disdain). My family still laughs about that incident.

  55. I once was driving an author to the airport and she saw a street name that she really liked. She took out her little notebook and wrote it down. She said that she keeps a notebook of interesting names so she has something to go to when she is trying to think of names. I think it would be more difficult if you were constrained by a time period.

  56. I was one of your readers who asked if a person in one book was related to a person in another. I have often asked myself if I have heard of a name before….or even if I had read the name in an earlier chapter! I know that the period limits you to certain names. But I often wish that the characters were given unusual names so I can keep track! 🙂

  57. That would be one big database of name, to keep them all straight. I love the names you have come up with. I do a lot of family history research and a few of the names in my family are Christian, Mathison, Katarina, Hazel and Wynona (That’s the Dutch side) Then on the Irish side its A LOT of John’s, Jane, and one German woman named Icel. That was probably one that did not get used a lot 😛 Thanks for all you great books! No matter the names .

  58. HA……Vanessa Huxtable! I did not make the connection even though I was a fan of that show back in the day. As one of your previous responders suggested, I think I was just so caught up in the wonderful atmosphere of the story itself that I just didn’t connect it with anything else.

    Now, if you had named her Rudy Huxtable…..maybe I would have noticed! (smile)

  59. I am rereading a lot of your books. Shall I begin your list for you? 🙂 I am reading TRULY now for the first time and of course those names are different because of the Welsh origins. I have been wondering as I read if you speak the Welsh language. Looking forward to the new book!

  60. Character names are so important! I will often find myself not bonding with a main character because I don’t like their name! I’ve stopped reading a book before due to that.

    I did put Sydnam on my most recent baby name list. Alas, it did not make the final cut and we have instead a Tristan:-)

  61. Love your books. And never thought to decide the character names need intense research. I guess pick the wrong name could give the different impression to the reader.

  62. Figuring out new character names must be very frustrating. I would imagine that coming up with names of aristocratic homes is difficult as well. I enjoy names that have historical and literary meanings.

  63. I sometimes find that a name can almost define a person’s character. I love names; I always have. Well, let’s be honest, I love the written word. But, being an aspiring author, I am finding it difficult to choose names for my first characters. Thanks for the personal insight. 🙂

  64. My brother-in-law said he always thought it would be cool to be named after a character in a book who gets killed off. So I’m obliging him in my current WIP. I changed the character’s original appearance to match my brother-in-law and renamed him Dave, after he made the comment. Maybe no one else will know he’s been immortalized in a book, but Dave will. To misquote a line from the movie “Stranger Than Fiction,” the character dies but the story lives on . . .

  65. Of course, the characters have to have names! Otherwise they would be non-entities to me. How else can I smile, laugh, or even cry with the the appropriate character if they don’t have a name? At the very least they need a label of some kind: Lord A, Lady A, etc.? If I am reading a book that has character names that are unpronounceable, I will identify them by the shape of the letters and never say the name in my mind!

  66. Do you use online baby naming sites? I find them so helpful, especially if a character is not from the English speaking world. They also are great for lists of most popular names from various years.

    I used to enjoy baby name books but the computer has access to so much more!

  67. The timing on this is perfect. I am a book indexer/database indexer/librarian who is retiring in a few months. And I was wondering what I would do with my time……………

  68. I’m fascinated with the difficulties of naming characters, titles and stately homes in fiction, especially Regency fiction.

    Sometimes the names join other details to make the stories virtually unreadable — yes, I know the author wants to tell a story, but if s/he can’t be bothered to make it credible in the small details, then I can’t bother to finish what I’ve started. We’re learning in this e-book age that some books are easy to put down.

    My writer friend who set several historical romances in the British Isles would pick names from a very detailed map that had names of towns and villages. Even then she had to Google the names to find out if there actually is a Viscount Something or a Lord Whatever in either the past or the present day.

    So glad the publishing staff caught Peter Jennings and especially Lenny Bruce!

    In Wales in the ’80s, one of my traveling companions was asked by a native to read a village sign written in Welsh language, and he was complimented on his pronunciation. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to attempt pronouncing it. It was all I could do to wrap my mind around “Bronwyn” and “Angharad” in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.

    I remember characters’ names from a few books, movies, and book, TV or film series. From Mary’s books I only remember names of the Bedwyns and not even their heroes/heroines.

    None of this amnesia interferes with enjoying good stories well told. And I’m grateful I don’t have to keep track of all the good names you’ve already “used up.” Just keep ’em coming, please!!!

  69. An appropriate post when we just recently had the naming of the new baby Prince! Hmm… and he ended up with a Regency name!

    For several years I edited for a Phantom of the Opera fan fic writer, and since she hated naming characters, she made me do it! Except, of course, the Phantom who had been named Erik by author Gaston Leroux in the original book.

  70. I’ll bet there’s some kind of spread sheet set up that you could use for characters, titles, manor houses, etc. It would be a great project for an intern at a nearby university who is majoring in literature, Regency history or something similiar.

    Count me in as one of those who thought of the Cosby show from the Huxtables quintet. That’s okay, family is family.

    Appreciate the amount of sharing you do, it’s all interesting and enlightening.
    Reply ↓

  71. I enjoyed reading about how you name people/titles/properties. LOL

    What I have trouble with is when I have no idea how to pronounce certain names…especially those with Scottish or Irish names. I usually just make up something to call the character on my own.

    bmndshuler(at)hotmail(dot)com

  72. I just read last post, funny I do same thing when I can not pronounce the name, I just make up some pronunciation. I never thought about how difficult it might be to come up with so many names. Love your books

  73. I find the names you choose interesting. I especially like the Bedwyn names and your explanation was great. I notice that flowers were often popular—Lili, Daisy, Rose–as well as Biblical names–Charity, Prudence, Constance. I do find the names work well. A hero should have a strong name. A heroine should have a feminine one.
    Like others, I never made the Vanessa Huxtable connection—probably because she was already Vanessa Dew when we met her.
    As to having your characters indexed, I am sure you could find a young intern who would love to learn about the trade under your tutelage and would do some work in trade (sort of like when we have student teachers)..

  74. I have a spreadsheet list of names to be used. One column for primary men, one column for primary women, then the same for secondary and lesser characters. Nicknames are in parentheses. The last column is a list of surnames. At the bottom is a list place names and titles. And on a separate page is a list of couples.

    Some of my stories are connected, so I have a flow chart of who is married to whom, what story they belong to and how they are connected to other characters. For the stories that are connected, I have a brief synopsis with an attached list of character involved.

    Whew! It looks like a cross between genealogy and a war-time battle plan with all the intricacies involved.

  75. Yep, you need a spreadsheet with all the names, books, etc. I love the time lines/genealogy charts that some do. I do remember the book by the character’s name – like an old friend.

  76. The importance of names was well indicated with “More than a Mistress”, where the use of “Jane” though not the character’s “proper” name was more intimate than her actual name. I loved the dialogue between Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham and “Jane Ingleby” (Lady Sara Illingsworth), especially his use of the name “Jane”.

  77. Names help me to get to know the character. Descriptions are also important as I like to imagine what the character looks like.A good strong name for the hero really is important for me. I loved almost all your heroes’ names Mary..I do have to admit Hugo was a difficult one for me! But I got past it and really enjoyed The Proposal.

  78. What a nice discussion! It makes sense that you don’t quite remember ALL your characters after so many books. And since many of your readers are not from the UK, not members of the aristocracy, some of the issues, like Lady Mornington, wouldn’t occur to us. And no, I didn’t think of that show when I saw the name Huxtable. Somehow your Huxtables were in their own world.

  79. I love hearing of your process for naming characters. I love unique character names, but not too unique. I like to be able to pronounce the name and not struggle in my head with it. I would have a hard enough time coming up with first and last names, but adding titles to the mix makes my head ache.

    I love your books and look forward to reading The Arrangement.

  80. I love your books and I’ve always been fascinated by all the different names you have in them and how the names relate to the character. I wrote short stories when I was a kid, just for the fun of it and often to keep myself looking like I was taking notes when I was bored in class. Now many years out of the classroom I’ve been looking back at those stories and so many of them have parentheses around the characters names because I didn’t want to use those names as I wrote the story further. The funny part is now that I’m rereading them I realize how childish my writing was but hidden in the childishness were a few good ideas.

  81. I’ve often wondered about how authors choose names for their characters. I can’t image how difficult it would be to keep track of all the characters and place names. Maybe one day a devote fan will catalog all of them for you. Hmmm, that would be a fun task. 🙂

  82. I, for one, get so caught up in the book I’m reading at the time that I don’t recall many names from previous books. So I think it perfectly acceptable to repeat the occasional name. Good job for figuring out so many.

  83. Hi Mary!

    My favorite genre to read are historical romance and I love when one of the characters has the same name as one of my ancestors, even if they do end up being the maid or the butler!

    With surnames of Bingham, Ellsworth, Hastings and Sheldon, to name a few, being pass down to,many of my ancestors, their names end up in many of the historical romance books I read. It makes me wonder what level of society they were and since my maiden name was Ryon I never have figured out if my father’s family was English or Irish since his ancestors emigrated from Glasgow!

    I love that my family has always used family names as middle names for their children and helped pass our interest and thanks to those that went before us and led us to live in the United States. I’m also related to Ethan Allen who was farmer; businessman; land speculator; philosopher; writer; and American Revolutionary War patriot, hero, and politician. I am thankful that my Great Grandmother Dunn passed on her heritage of her ancestors down to me and my family!

    Whenever one of my family names end up in a book I’m reading I love to imagine my own ancestors being that person and wonder if how what is going on in the story would have affected them!

    • Well, if your father’s family emigrated from Glasgow, they were most likely Scottish, since the Irish mostly emigrated from Belfast, Cork and/or Liverpool. The English were most likely to have emigrated from Liverpool, Southampton, Portsmouth, and London.

      Later,

      Lynn

  84. Mary, What a problem to have– too many published books. Keep it up. One of my pet peeves is when an author uses similar names in the same story making it confusing to keep them straight until you are well into the story.

  85. As you can see my name is Eugenia. Unfortunately all romantic novel heroines I have come across so far are antidotes. I would love to read a book with a lovable Eugenia. Your books have been a joy to read through the years. Thanks for the company.
    Eugenia

  86. The first book I ever read of yours was A Summer To Remember and I was hooked. I love the Bedwyn’s and how you came up with their names.

  87. I really enjoy the characters you’ve created in all of the books you’ve authored that I’ve read, which are many. I take note of first names even more than last names typically, because I apparently have a relatively unusual first name for a female. I was very annoyed and upset for decades to be getting correspondence addressed to Mr. even when my first name was spelled correctly, and not misspelled as ‘Lawrence.’ After Google became popular, I “googled” my first name and was surprised to find out that practically 98% of people named ‘Lawrene’ are males. Guess that means I’ll just have to put up with being labelled Mr. a great deal of the time. The life experience has created an interest in names and naming, though, in general.

    I think that naming characters is incredibly important, even more so for authors who have such successful characters as you do in your books. When you credit your audience with intelligence, and I believe that you do a great job of that, what seems like “light reading” to some people can actually be compelling and somewhat educational. Thank you for continuing your writing; your work is always a great reading experience.

  88. How interesting to learn the backend process of naming characters and developing the story. I guess because your stories are written in a different era, I did not make the Vanessa Huxtable/Bill Cosby connection. I began my love affair with the Regency period reading Georgette Heyer books, too (they are just as good now as they were 30 years ago). I enjoy all your books and impatiently wait for the next installments. Thank you for enriching my life with your characters.

  89. The names in the stories are not so important to me as I don’t remember many of them.The stories are what’s important to me. You always deliver on that point. I only care that the names are not so unusual as to cause me to have to pause to pronounce it each time I come across it on the page. Of course, when that happens, I just make up something easy. 🙂 One of my favorite books is “The Secret Pearl.” I don’t remember one character’s name. But I remember the entire story. So don’t spend too much time worrying about the names. Just keep those great stories coming.

  90. If I’m only buying one book, but can’t decide on which one, then I will many times go by the names of the characters on the synopsis. If the male character has a rugged, manly, or interesting and unusual name I have to read that one to find out if he really was whatever I imagined. Although, with women’s names sometimes it’s fun to find out that someone with a boring and plain name turns out to be anything but that….makes me feel good!

  91. I don’t think I will ever get tired of any of your books or characters! It is amazing how wrapped up you can get into the story and all the characters feel like people you know personally. You start by reading one book and yet there are so many more to read with the same characters who are now almost like friends. For instance if you read one of the Slightly books then of course you have to read them all not to mention the Simply series and One Night for Love and A Summer to Remember and now The Proposal and The Arrangement. Thanks Mary keep the wonderful stories and characters coming.

  92. I love the names that you pick and have always thought they fit the characters. In addition to classic period names I have noticed others that have Welsh roots – Gwen for instance – and some that could come from Shakespeare’s era of creative spelling. I unconsiously visualize the character as well and the name gives them a bit of attitude. For example, Cora made me think of coral, and she loved bright colours so it reinforced her image, plus Cora is close to the Spanish word for heart, and she had a big heart. Thanks for all the stories, they are wonderful.

  93. I think the name chosen for a character is very important and can see why it would become difficult to come up with new ones that are appropriate for the era. I have been researching my family history and have found some of it incredibly confusing as most of the children would use the same name for their children as their parents had used. Thus there are so many Johns, Williams, Sarahs, Elizabeths, Davids, etc that dates of birth are really vital to keep them all straight. Giles was a second name that was passed down for many generations that I found very helpful to match family members.

    The character names Georgette Heyer used in her novels seem quite unique and as I understand it she did a lot of research for her stories. And I really liked the way Stephanie Laurens used place names in England for many of her characters and their titles. I would look them up on a map and found it easy to believe the names could be real.

    Please keep up the great job of selecting your character’s names and if you write another hundred books be sure to know that you have a loyal audience that appreciates them.

  94. I loved this post. Thank you so much for the suggestion of a list of characters. I’m new in my writing career, so it wouldn’t be a huge insurmountable task to create a list. I wanted to let you know, I received an ARC of The Arrangement when I went to RWA13. Of all the books I received (4 boxes), I was most thrilled with yours, even though it wasn’t signed, and I’ve already pre-ordered it for my Kindle. I immediately started reading it in between workshops, etc. I loved it! I want to be just like you when I grow up!

  95. I think the tough thing about historical names is that they are often greatly associated with more recent times. For instance, Allison was a name hugely popular in the 1960s in the US; Kim in the 1950s; Jennifer in the 1970s. So even though those names could be perfectly valid in terms of historical usage, their wide popularity during those more recent times gives them a modern tone that is hard to overcome. I agree–names are a real challenge!

  96. I have loved all of your character names in all of your books. Thank goodness the Arrangement is almost here! Also thanks for the pronunciation of Alleyne.

  97. What’s in a name? Now we know your process and difficulty in naming your characters. I was surprised you didn’t have the names of your characters already decided before you started writing. Thank you for your wonderful imagination and your gift for telling a story.

  98. So many names, so many favorite characters. I loved Lily and Sophia. And Julia, Clara and Harriet. Sydnam and Hartley are unforgettable. And so many more.
    My first Mary Balogh book, so long ago, was “Lady With a Black Umbrella”. Thank you, Mary, for long lovely hours of enjoyable romance.

  99. I love the old victorian sounding names, it makes the story complete. I appreciate all the time you must spend researching the facts to give your novels autheniticity

  100. Hi a friend told me she was reading your book and loved your bedwyn serries…
    so I decided to check out your page…
    thanks

  101. I just finished The Proposal and loved it! My Mom, who loves to read, suggested I read it after I had finished reading the book I had taken to her home while I was staying with her after her knee replacement. She was right…I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait for The Arrangement! I’ll be sharing The Proposal with my sisters and cousins, who also love to read.

  102. I have read (for the fourth and third times) both THE PROPOSAL AND THE SUITOR–on my Nook. I’ve preordered THE ARRANGEMENT so am all ready for Tuesday! Having signed copies of the books would be fantastic!

    Rebecca

  103. I always love to read your blog posts, Mary; just earlier today, when I was finishing The Suitor (such a satisfying novella, by the way!), I was thinking about the secondary characters, and how much I admired your ability to come up with names for them all.

    I sometimes have difficulty keeping track of the secondary characters in the house parties. It’s not the same as, for example, a character who makes a brief appearance at a ball. I will “be” at that house party for several days (well, several days of the characters’ lives), with an ongoing relationship with them all. When a number of the men follow the hero into the billiard room, I want to be sure I know who’s around the table; will it be all the younger set, or will they be called to a higher standard of manners by the presence of their elders? You convey those scenes so realistically Mary, and I’ve sometimes written myself a little diagram to make sure I could keep up with you.

    I own almost every one of your books, and I would love to win the signed copies!

  104. I’m sure you have to have a good sense of humor when you find you’ve named a character with a familiar name (Bill Cosby’s
    Huxtable). Now, as a fan, I didn’t pull up a memory of the TV (& our family watched this one) show when I was reading AND enjoying the Huxtable books. 🙂 A rose by any name will be sweet as long as it is named in a Mary Balogh book! 🙂

  105. I have sometimes wondered how people during the Regency period were able to follow who was whom with all those titles! I really appreciate the correct usage of titles and forms of address throughout your books though!

  106. What’s in a name?

    Well, as someone said earlier “Thing 1 and Thing 2 are already taken.” So are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And the last thing you want to call someone is Late for Dinner!!

    Names are important. They identify a person, not just for the reader but also for the character. You can’t have one without the other.

    Hmmm. I’m not quite sure what happened in that statement, but it made sense in my head! Anyway, what you need is an intern who knows spreadsheets and needs a good project.

    Later,

    Lynn

  107. I loved Hugo and Gwen’s story! I look forward to reading Vincent’s. Actually, that’s my son’s name. I remember picking it because it was normal yet relatively uncommon (at least in my culture), masculine yet cerebral all at the same time. Picking a name for my first child was not easy. I can only imagine the difficulty if you have hundreds of “children” you’ve already named.

  108. I never could figure out why people name their children by strange and unusual names. The parents know full-well that their children will suffer the embarrassment of having to explain why their parents chose that unique name.

  109. As others have written, names are so important – they support the defining nature of the people in the stories. Although not exactly similar, we were very careful when we named our children to name them after people who had values and depth of character that we wanted our children to have. I had not thought about how difficult it would be to create names for so many people, as I only had 4 children to name. I write for a living – academic writing- and don’t have to worry about names. I did identify with your comment about pausing to think of a name – I often find myself stopping for several minutes to think about exactly what ideas I am trying to convey to my reader. Writing is not easy but a well written book is so very enjoyable. I like to own your books and not get them from the library because I reread them many times. Thank you so much for providing me with many pleasurable hours of reading. – it provides a break from my research which examines issues of genocide and trauma.

  110. I wonder if some parents think about how their child’s name can traumatize them. Case in point: Harold Bottoms. Now, the poor kid’s surname was bad enough and his folks all called him “Harold,” but couldn’t they contemplate the fact that somebody somewhere would call him “Harry”? Harry is also a perfectly acceptable name, but put them together… which often happened in school. Instant stigma, instant trauma.

    Repeating names is so common in real life, I don’t think it should be absolutely necessary to avoid it, at least in different books. It would be confusing in the same book, but maybe you could reuse some names to avoid having to come up with so many unique ones.

  111. Very interesting. Characters’ names always interest me. When I was in elementary school I had a list of some of my favourite character names to “borrow” when I had to writing assignments in school. Now I have a short list for future baby names.

  112. I have a confession. I have a really hard time reading about a character whose name I don’t know how to pronounce. It’s my fault. It’s a brain glitch.
    For example, Freyja. I didn’t know for quite some time how that name was pronounced. So when her name would appear, as with other names I can’t pronounce, I’d read it over once, then have to go back, and again, each time pronouncing it differently, trying to get it right in my head. As I said, my fault. Its just how my brain works. I’ve even tried giving characters different names, but it doesn’t work, once my brain has been trained it stays trained.

    I’m not saying you can’t name your characters interesting, unusual names. Not at all. I enjoy different names and even learning the story behind the name, if there is one. I just have to know how to pronounce them.

    Here’s a good name you can use: Shereen. Isn’t that a good one? I’d love to read about her. She would be awesome, and a bit sassy.

  113. As someone who has decided to try her hand at writing a historical romance this was most useful thank you very much. By the by love your books.

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