What’s in a Name?
My given name is Alysia. The house I grew up in sat on a bluff above Lake Michigan, and my parents named me after a sailboat that wandered by. Whenever I share that story, everyone always thinks it’s very romantic. Of course, they didn’t grow up with a name that was always mispronounced and misspelled. Though it’s not deliberate on my part, I suspect my own unusual name is the reason I’m so careful when naming the characters in my stories.
Once I get an idea for a story, the first thing I do is decide on the names for the hero and heroine. Sometimes they make it easy and tell me their names, or a name will simply come to me, but other times I end up spending a lot of time searching for just the right name for each character. Not only does it have to fit the character’s personality, but it also has to be a name that was in use during the time period. Other things to consider are whether it is easy to pronounce and fits the identity and background of the character. These rules also apply to secondary characters, with the added caveat that for a minor character, it’s best to avoid names that can create gender confusion (yes, I am thinking of Pat from Saturday Night Live).
One way to find names for a specific time period is to read through public records and newspapers, which works quite well for men. However, women’s names only rarely appear in public documents prior to the mid-twentieth century. Another place it is safe to take names from is the bible, though it’s best to stick with the New Testament if the character is of the upper classes because they rarely used names from the Old Testament. Also, royal names were popular for both sexes. Another of my favorite sources for period appropriate names is literature from the era, and of course, Jane Austen’s books are from the Regency period, as are the works of Mary Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Lord Byron.
Though the story takes place in London, the hero and heroine in One Last Kiss are both Russian (though the heroine’s mother was English). I ended up choosing Anna for the heroine because it was a popular name in both countries during the early 19th century. For the hero, I wanted a name that was definitively Russian since he is a Russian soldier, which is very important to his identity. I chose Mikhail (pronounced Mi-kha-il) because it is familiar enough that most people recognize it, and because I like the shortened version, Misha.
Anna and Misha were childhood sweethearts before the Napoleonic Wars forced them apart, so I wanted to show how close they had once been by using their nicknames for each other. In Russia, affectionate nicknames are common for girls, but much less so for boys, whose nicknames are usually only used by male friends and are more likely to be rude than tender to reinforce their manhood. So Anna uses the shortened form of Misha’s name, while he calls her Annushka, which is an affectionate form of Anna.
What do you think? How important are character names to you? What can drive you crazy about names used in books?
About the Author:
Ally likes to curse in Russian because very few people know what she’s saying, and spends most of what would be her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She has many stories in her head looking for an opportunity to escape onto paper. She writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia.
One Last Kiss
by Ally Broadfield
It’s in His Kiss #2
Release Day: May 30, 2016
Captain Mikhail Abromovich would rather single-handedly face the entire French army than follow orders to deceive Anna, the woman of his heart, by feigning a courtship to hide his covert activities.
Ever since a gossip sheet revealed the details of her extensive dowry, Princess Anna Tarasova has been overrun by fortune-hunting lords. When her childhood sweetheart mysteriously appears in London and asks to court her, it seems too good to be true.
For Mikhail, who is both soldier and spy, being chosen to represent Russia in secret negotiations with Britain should be the assignment of a lifetime. But once his deception is revealed, he’s certain Anna won’t believe his love is real.