RevMelinda asks: <<have you all blogged on character names and how you choose them? (my lamentable memory). You and Loretta both have heroines named Leila (my younger daughter’s name) and I bet all of you wenches have heroines (or villains) named Sophia (my older daughter’s name). I’d love to know whether your characters spring fully-named and formed from your brows or whether that’s a head-banging task too!>>
I don’t remember whether we’ve blogged on character names or not–and it hardly matters. As you’ve seen, we Wenches never hesitate to gang up on a question.
I particularly like this question because it corresponds to one I got from a reader–a librarian–not long ago. She wanted to know about my choosing the maiden name of Usignuolo for Lord Dain’s mother (in Lord of Scoundrels). Being a librarian, she looked it up, naturally, and wasn’t sure why I chose the word for “nightingale” for a guy like Dain. Here’s my answer:
“Somewhere (can’t remember where), I came across it as a Florentine name. I would have made a list of names from that part of Italy. Then, to decide among them, I consulted A Dictionary of Surnames by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges. It’s listed as an Italian cognitive of ‘Rossignol’, a French name explained thus: ‘nickname for a person with a good singing voice, or ironically for a raucous person.’ It was the ironical meaning that decided me on this name. I saw Dain as making a great deal of noise, from the time he was born.”
(Oops, I just noticed I never answered her question about his nose, but I’ll get to that eventually, I hope.)
The above is an example of the head-banging process. As clearly as I saw this particular hero, it took me days of studying my various name compendiums (or is that compendia? Ah, dictionary OKs both, whew.) to get his name. With titled gentlemen, this can be a very involved process, on account of how, the higher up the nobility ladder they stand, the more titles they tend to have. And he was a marquess. Yet when I saw the right name(s) for him, I knew they were right. OTOH, in the same book, the heroine’s name came quite easily. She was Jessica Trent, right from the start, unlike some other heroines, who’ve gone through several names changes in the course of the manuscript. Daphne, of Mr. Impossible, started out as Chloe, yet her brother was Miles Archdale from the get-go. And Rupert was Rupert instantly. I don’t know why. It’s part of that mysterious side of writing.
The heroes’ titles come from places, for the most part, as is normally the case with actual titled persons. The Carsington surname, too, comes from a place–a body of water in Derbyshire, where the family has lived, presumably, for generations. But I chose “Dain” because of its meaning and its associations–“nickname for a worthy and honourable citizen, or for a haughty and self-important one” per the Dictionary of Surnames, and words like “deign” and “disdain.”
Leila is another example of a name fraught with meaning. It’s a name I’ve always loved, no matter how it’s pronounced or spelled. For Captives of the Night, however, the name for me was associated with Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla, and the kind of emotion that song expresses, which for me corresponded to the intensity of feeling between my characters. The name also corresponded to elements of the story itself: the hero and heroine having to meet only at night. According to Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of First Names, the names derives “Probably, through the Moors, from Arabic (‘darkness’ or ‘night’), it has been to some extent popularized by Byron’s Mohammedan child in Don Juan and by his unfortunate heroine in The Giaour.”
This would make the name a bit modern for my heroine, though only by a decade or so. I do try to avoid names that are too modern, just as I try to avoid too-modern terminology. Luckily, the 19th C penchant for classical names–from history and mythology–offers lots of leeway in giving my characters interesting names.
This is a topic upon which I could discourse endlessly. Each book involves a long process of name-choosing–a process I am beginning now, as I assemble cast and plot for a new book.
But names are interesting and fun, I think, for most of us. We all choose them at one point or another–for our children, our pets, and–for those of us who write fiction–for our stories and sometimes, in the case of pen names, for ourselves. And we all have preferences when we read: some character names we love and some we don’t. What about you? How much do names matter? What do you like and dislike in names, real or fictional? Would a rose by any other name–say Daylily–smell as sweet to you?