Monday, April 10, 2006

SBD -- names

It's Monday, so it must be Smart Bitches Day!

Time for a Ranty McRant about Romances, romance, or sex & love.

Emmmm. Kind of don't have one lined up. Except that maybe I'm getting the sense that in Regency Romancelandia, some of the names don't quite work for me. Perhaps it's the Gaelen Foley I just read, but I'm kind of over Lucien, Damien, Gabriel, Adrian, or any other kind-of-sounds-like-an-angel name. I don't have access to 1790s birth records in London, but I'm guessing that Adrian wasn't at the top of the roles there.

I don't have a problem with king names (Richard, John, George), but we don't see too many Henrys, do we? And what about Alfred? Albert? (Andrew and Anthony show up a good deal in Regencies, and that "feels" right to me. Could do with more Geoffreys and Pauls--something other than Robert.) But what about Surnames? Jocelyn is one I've seen, there's the ever-famous Fitzwilliam, of Pride & Prejudice's Mr. Darcy. But I'm not thinking of too many Historicals I've read recently where the hero's given name "feels" like a possible surname--and I'm fairly sure it was a common practice for boys to be named for someone else's last name.

My grandmother grew up in a very New England Victorian family--we had lots of Johns and Roberts, and John Roberts on that side. But there were the names which died out after the 1930s too. Elwyn (Welsh, so maybe not a go for a Regency ball), Lester, and Lynde. Florence, Phebe, and Grace. On my father's side we have John, Thomas, and Douglas all confusingly reordered through the generations. (John Douglas begat Douglas Thomas who begat John Thomas, etc.) But then there's Dandridge as a first name, and the brothers of Nathaniel and Bartholomew. Nat and Bat.

Americans used to tend towards wonky names like Zebulon, Ezekiel, or Barnabus, and I'm not sure I want that in a hero's name (although I did grow up with a very good guy named Zebulon). But there's either something safe about the names Americans choose for British Regency heroes (Michael, Andrew) or something rather bizzare (Lucien, Damien, Wolf).

Two names I like which mean something to the book they're in: Hazel Motes in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood and Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. There are layers of meaning (some a little obvious) to their names, but it forever links that character to that book for me. Unlike, say, Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises. It's a strong name, one you can say when you're drunk, a masculine, aggressive, American name. But I don't immediately identify the name with The Sun Also Rises in the same way that I do with, say, Sam Spade, Hazel Motes, or Nick Carraway.

I think that's my problem with Lucien--overused and it doesn't ring out as belonging to one particular book or author.

10 comments:

Megan Frampton said...

It is really hard to figure out a name for your hero, and I have to admit to being tempted by some of the most overused ones...my latest guy is named Reeve, which is his father's surname, since he's a bastard. It took me three different tries to get one with which I was happy.

Will I hate myself if my next hero is Lucifer?

Suisan said...

Here now, I didn't say this was easy---I've tried naming characters and have sucked eggs at it. Aquila with the aquiline nose, etc. Reeve works. I *like* Reeve.

(Off topic: I'm pretty good at naming horses something which doesn't sound like fake arabic gobbledy gook. Aji bubu behir, or some such crap. A lot of the ones I work on are based on Regency/Victorian poets, poems, or Shakespearean influences, so that's a nice mix to play around in.)

But I'm thinking that Lucien is fairly well tapped out. Devlin too. as in, "He's so devilish, why, his name could just be Dev!"

And welcome back from the Land of Frappe!

Maili said...

Heh. The sad thing about the UK it was easy to tell where a bloke is from on the basis of his name alone. So, if there is a Devlin Gobblestock wandering around, none of us would figure out where he's from without hearing him to speak. A person's accent is the fastest way to figure out the person's background, including his upbringing, education, and current residence. The person's name is a helpful companion to making some guesswork.
That is a long way round to say that the majority of names in romance novels have no sense of rhyme and reason, e.g. no sense of culture, history, and regionalism. OK, I've rambled long enough.

Marianne McA said...

Because people wouldn't have freely used Christian names with each other when I was a child, I always find it odd when characters in Regencies get on first name terms so quickly.
In my brother's school they were known by their surnames, and called each other by their surnames or nicknames after school. I don't know if that would have been the case during the Regency - but it means it feels more plausible to me when the hero's friends don't call him by his first name.

Pat Kirby said...

I don't read historicals, but Lucien strikes me as a stock name for just about every vampire or paranormal hottie in fiction. Bleh.

Kate R said...

my husband's very DAR family had a Rizbah Bisbee in the early 19th century. I love that name. I think Rizbah was a female.

Not really on topic, but that's okay because the name is worth it.

Michelle said...

I love finding a unique name in a historical romance, and I'll agree that if I see another Lucian, I'm going to hurl. Same goes with Ranulf in a medieval.

Nancy J said...

I thought everyone knew that Paul is the name reserved for kind or wimpy ex-fiancees.

Elena Greene said...

Interesting discussion!

I have mixed feelings about heroines' names, too. Georgette Heyer used a lot of the fancier ones: Venetia, Arabella, Ancilla, and I loved them. As did a bunch of succeeding Regency authors, who become more and more inventive with their names. It hit a point when it became an overdose. In some cases, dare I say it, even a substitute for unique characterization.

That point hit as I was starting to research my own stories, and found contemporary sources showing a lot more Marys, Elizabeths, Janes and the like.

So in my own writing I may throw in an unusual name when it makes sense, but I will also continue to use a lot of the more common ones.

Anonymous said...

If you search the 1851 UK census for male heads of household born in 1790 +/- 10 years, it's almost all kings' names. From a page of the results: John, Joseph, Thomas, William, Samuel, James, George, Stephen, Charles, Edward, Michael....In looking through the first ninety names returned in my search, the most outlandish were Amos, Bay, Job, and Burton (which was probably an attempt to preserve a family name).

Shockingly, no Devlins at all!

--Elizabeth