Getting It Right
It’s one of the tricky things about writing historical novels. While contemporary novelists probably devote plenty of time in choosing a novel’s characters’ names, when you are
via Flickr by Jack Dorsey
writing historical, particularly in the ancient time frame I’m using now, you sometimes have to choose between names a reader can pronounce in his/her head and names that were actually in use at the time.
I was in the middle of this task when I decided to run my proposed names by the people who follow my Facebook page. Here is what I said:
Readers: Please help! In the novel I’m working on I have to name some children. Always hard to strike a balance with names readers are familiar with and those that have somewhat of an ancient Irish feel. In this case I’m trying to keep them somewhat similar to the actual names in history. How do you feel about these: Egan, Keeva, Meredit, Shona. I’ve tried to use a spelling that helps the reader hear the correct sound. In order they are boy, girl, girl, girl.
The feedback on that post was very helpful. If you offered your opinion, thank you! If you did not, but would like to, feel free to comment below.
Names in My Past Novels
I thought you might like to hear how I came up with other character names. Some of them were quite simple, but here was my thinking:
For Brigid of Ireland, I obviously already had the main character. The original publisher of that book included a pronunciation guide at the front. For instance, Aine is AWN-ya. (Some readers of Pages of Ireland have asked about that one.) My rule for that book was that the names that were fairly easy to pronounce were fictional, and many others that were not were historical.
For Grace’s Pictures, I thought of Grace O’Malley, the sixteenth-century Irish pirate. I don’t know why. The characters aren’t really alike, but the name stayed with me, and it’s a beautiful name that taken literally reminds one that there by the grace we go. Owen is a name of Celtic origin, and I was influenced by a former youth pastor my son was mentored by. The Parker family was explained in the book: the children were named after trees, which Grace thought was funny…trees in the park? But their mother was an avid gardner. Reverend Clarke got his name because I once knew a Reverend Clark. The other names in the book came to me for no particular reason.
For Annie’s Stories I named Annie for Annie Moore, the first immigrant to come through Ellis Island.
The mark used by Annie’s father, explained in the novel.
For her counterpart, I wanted a name that sounded very American. What’s more American than a president? So, I used Adams. I thought Stephen sounded appropriate for the early twentieth-century and quite American. Speaking of names, I explain in the novel about Annie’s father’s name and his pen name. Annie’s father is the source of “Annie’s stories.”
I held a contest for the naming rights for two characters in this book, but then most of the characters were already in Grace’s Pictures. So the two Eastern European sisters in the book were named that way.
For Sofia’s Tune, I had originally used Sophia, but the publisher (who later opted not to publish
Book Three, Ellis Island Series
this book) changed it to Sofia, which I think is more of an Italian spelling. Sofia means wisdom, and I hoped that throughout the story my character would grow in wisdom, which only comes from God. That is why I was so happy to be able to use Sophia Sing to Me, written by Irish singer/songwriter Andy Rogers. You can hear it on the book trailer found here. I believe the other characters came out of my imagination, if I remember right. But, oh, the dog? Nothing earth-shattering, but I think it was a name I heard in high school and thought it was Italian but not overly common.
I often consult baby name web sites when searching for a name. I love these because they often give the meaning of the name. If you look some of my character names up, you might understand why I gave a certain character a specific name. For instance, in Brigid of Ireland there is a druid named Bram. This is a derivative of Abraham, the father of many. While we don’t specifically know if Bram’s heart was changed in the story, he represented the old beliefs that were about to change for many of the Irish people. Another example. Back to Aine. Her name means “splendor, radiance, brilliance.” As you might remember from Brigid of Ireland, she had leprosy and was healed.
Names Are Hard/Names Are Fun
That pretty much sums it up for me. I spend maybe too much time deciding on character names, but I do love the process. Let me know what you think!