Last Friday, Michaeline posted about character names and how she picks them. I’ve had a bit of a name conundrum myself, which I’ve been avoiding like an ostrich with his head in the sand, hoping it’ll all go away.
Okay, I exaggerate. My naming problem isn’t a big one. Susannah’s last name is Humphries. As I think about my next book (and the next, and the next), all of which are about other family members directly related to Susannah (and sharing the same last name), I realized that Humphries just isn’t a roll-off-the-tongue name. And, as my husband pointed out, it has the word “hump” in it.
One could argue that I’m either a) getting ahead of myself or b) planning well, but I want to have a family name that I’ll feel comfortable using for MANY books. I want the name to be synonymous with a good, fun-to-read series featuring characters worth caring about.
To that end, I’ve been thinking a lot about the names used in some of the historical family sagas I love:
- The Montgomerys, Taggarts, and McTerns (Jude Devereaux)
- The Mallorys (Johanna Lindsey)
- The Bridgertons (Julia Quinn)
- Buchannans (Julie Garwood)
- Cynsters (Stephanie Laurens)
All of these names are catchy, multi-syllable names that sound either like a place (Montgomery, Buchannan, Bridgerton), something fierce (Cynster, Taggart), or period-esque (McTern, Mallory). In all cases, the name rolls off the tongue.
“Humphries” does not roll off the tongue. It gets stuck at your teeth.
So I’ve spent time this past week coming up with a new family name for Susannah. I wanted something that sounded English, noble (although her family — at least her immediate family — is not nobility), and strong. Jilly suggested looking at a map of place names where Susannah’s family is from, so I spent a good hour on Google Maps hovering over the area of Norfolk and the northeast of England.
I came up with several good contenders, including Sharrington, Pentley, Cressingham, Bircham, Beacham, and Barton. Also Hetherset, Ketteringham (or Kettering), Ashwell, Westfileld, Dereham, and Whittington. Jilly chimed in on a couple (Westfield is a huge mall near London, Kettering is a big, modern area near Northamtonshire) and Michaeline, who was already planning last week’s post, did as well.
Ultimately, I settled on Cressingham. I like the way it sounds and I like the “feel” I get from it — English, titles and nobility, history, and it sounds sharp and clear.
Here’s the problem: Susannah’s fiancé is Lord Luckingham. I couldn’t have two -ingham names in the same book…it would be too confusing (Michaeline was kind enough to point that one out, thank you!), so then I had to go shopping for a name to replace his — only his had to be different…a bit more sinister, dark, and/or bad, because he’s the bad guy. I also had to find something that didn’t begin with any letters already in use (“T” for Tradwick, “R” for Rainsford, “K” for Kinlan, Nate’s family name, “S” for Sellington, and “C” for Cressingham).
Because I did not feel like poring over a map for hours looking for a name (I know, so unlike me because I LOVE maps, but moreso the paper kind than Google), I hit up Wikipedia and searched “places in Norfolk” and got a huge, alphabetical list of place names! Yay me! My short list included Pockthorpe, Walcott, Wolferton, Grimston, Dunston, Lyngate, Drayton, Bodney, Brundall, Bowthorpe, Brisley, Arminghall, Alethorpe, Aylsham, Hopton, and Cley.
I leaned towards Hopton, Aylsham, Arminghall, or Brundall, then I actually did a search/replace in my ms and inserted “Brisley,” but I didn’t like it. Again, Jilly made a suggestion which I ultimately adopted as my new bad guy name: Wolferton (as she said, “I like Wolferton and Grimston, because they sound like scary bad guy names”).
I did another search/replace and inserted “Wolferton.” So far, I like it. The biggest problem I have right now is I habitually type “Luckingham” or “Humphries” when writing, and I have to make sure my critique partner can keep my characters straight. I promised her a cheat sheet.
What name adventures have you had in your own books? Have you written a book/series, then gone back and renamed someone? How far along were you in your ms when you decided to change a character’s name?