I’ve always been fascinated by names. I used to read baby name books and online discussion boards years before I got pregnant, and I still have a sneaking interest in them even though I don’t plan to have any more kids.
I always read those articles about each year’s top ten baby names, and when I get my alumni magazine I skim through the class news section for birth announcements. I’ve even gotten into discussions of what names each of us might choose if we had as many children as the Duggars.
So one of the small things I enjoy about writing is getting to name all those people. That might surprise you, since my heroes and heroines so far have had relatively ordinary names. In The Sergeant’s Lady, Anna (Wright-Gordon) Arrington finds love with Will Atkins, while A Marriage of Inconvenience stars Lucy Jones and James Wright-Gordon.
The ordinariness is a deliberate choice. I tend toward the realistic end of romance writing, so I want my characters to have names that wouldn’t seem out of place among all the Richards, Henrys, Georges, Charlottes, Janes, and Catherines running around the real Regency England. But within those bounds, I put careful thought into how each name enhances the image I’m trying to convey for that character.
For example, Anna got her first name mostly because it had the right sound for someone who’s feminine and beautiful, yet also tough and straightforward. But I also like the name’s etymology. It comes from the Hebrew “Channah,” meaning “favor” or “grace,” which just seemed to fit a character who gets the grace of a second chance to build a happy life for herself after her disastrous first marriage. Her maiden name, Wright-Gordon, shows both her Highland maternal heritage and hints that her family’s money is relatively new in that her father’s name, Wright, is an ordinary English occupational surname rather than a fancy place name or a vaguely French name hinting at Norman ancestry.
As for the Arrington part, well, Anna’s evil first husband, Sebastian Arrington, who’s also the villain of A Marriage of Inconvenience, is an Arrington because it sounds a bit like “arrogant.” He’s a Sebastian because it’s such a common hero name, and I was playing with the idea that he looks like a hero on the surface--big handsome cavalry officer that he is--while in fact he’s rotten to the core.
Moving on to my hero, he’s a William who goes by Will rather than, say, Bill or Billy because “Will” suggests, none too subtly, that he’s a strong-willed, resolute sort. And Atkins is because “Tommy Atkins” was for a long time a generic reference to a British soldier, so it felt right to borrow the last name for my common sergeant hero.
Lucy Jones is the one character I’ve written so far that I’d rename if I could. Not the Lucy part--the etymological meaning of “light” feels right for her. I also strongly associate the name with Lucy Pevensie in the Narnia books, and therefore a certain sweetness and sense of wonder--though, come to think of it, I grew up reading Peanuts comics too, and Lucy Van Pelt gives the name a whole different resonance. Anyway, it’s the Jones part I might change. I was trying to show how ordinary and common the heroine feels, especially compared to her arrogant Arrington relatives, but I think “Jones” hits the archetype a little TOO hard on the nose. If I were starting the manuscript today, she’d probably be Lucy Evans.
I’ve already mentioned why James is a Wright-Gordon. He’s a James because I love the way it sounds and because it has a certain Scottishness about it, especially once we see that his Scottish relatives called him Jamie when he was growing up.
Over to you. Readers, do you have likes or pet peeves when it comes to character names? Writers, do you have a naming process or does the Muse deliver your characters pre-named? And what would YOU name a baby if you had a new one today? I’d pick Eleanor Frances for a girl (it was runner-up when we named Miss Fraser) and either Malcolm Arthur or Miles Arthur for a boy.