Hearts Through History Romance Writers

What’s in a Name?

medieval pigOk, I admit it, I was a history teacher.  I taught American History and Western Civilization at the college level.  I think being a history teacher was great preparation for being a story teller.  After all, that what history is, the story of who we are and where we come from.  It’s the story of us.


You want to make the history personal to the students.  One of my favorite lectures to do this was talking about surnames in the Middle Ages.  Once the population began to grow there had to be a way to tell all the Tom, Dick and Harry’s from one another.  So surnames were added.  Names came from a variety of way.  Many from attaching the patronymic ‘son of’.  Examples: Leif Ericson (Eric’s son), George MacDonald (son of Donald), John O’Reilly (son of Reilly), Ivan Petrov (son of Petre), John Williamson (son of William). OK, you get the idea.


Some names came from where you lived.  Woods, Fields, Rivers, Bridges.  Or if your French instead of English, DuBois (the woods), DuPont (the bridge).  Who you worked for such as King (Reyes, Reyna, Roi/Roy), Bishop, Priest, Mayor, etc.


Surname also came from occupations.  Farmer, Cook, Butcher, Clerk/Clark, Fuller, Dryer, Miller, Taylor/Tailor, Cooper, Butler, Fletcher, Wright (depending on what you built – Boatwright, Wheelwright, Cartwright), etc.  All these occupations exist in languages other than English, such as the German Snyder (tailor).  And of course, the most common surname, Smith.


Some other ‘Smith” German: Schmid, Schmidt, Schmitt

 French: Lefebvre, Lefèvre, Lefeuvre, Lefébure,

Spanish: Herrera, Herrero, Ferrero,

Portuguese: Ferreiro, Ferreira

Italian: Ferraro, Ferrari  (Yes, that fancy sports car the guys always wanted is a ‘Smith’)


One of my family names is Palmer – which means at one time, some of my ancestors made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


Do any of you have great stories of your family names?

How my characters got their names

While you’re writing one book, ideas for other stories pop into your mind.  So you make notes. 

The idea for Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold came from the location of Durango, so looking into Durango history, I chose the 1880s.  To the location and time I added some general plotting.  But a story is told through the character, so they must have names. 

I already had the name of my heroine, Julie (a cute blonde girl that I used to work with).  But Julie is not really historical for that time, so making the backstory (all that happens to you character before the book starts that make them who and what they are) that her father was a fan of Shakespeare, so named his daughters Cordelia (King Lear) and Juliette (with Romeo).  I don’t actually say this in the story, so if you caught the Julie and Cory connection – good for you.

 Once I had the heroine’s name, I needed a hero for her.  One that would contrast and eventually connect with her character.  My hero’s name is Wes, to underline ‘the west’ where the story takes place (and short and easy to type – always a consideration).  I didn’t want Wes to be short for Wesley (too Princess Bride), so made it a contraction of his last name, Westmoreland.  Again the sub text of connection with the wide open spaces of the west.

Julie’s Uncle Frank is named after a nice guy I used to work with.  Other character names seem to just pop up full blown.  Landham Kennedy, the villain’s name came just that way.  There were a lot of Irish immigrants in the United States which accounts for the Kennedy.  But I don’t think Landham is his real first name, but one he took when he came west.  I see Kennedy and his friend/hanger-on Rickman as hiding their southern roots of being poor white trash.  Both Clare and her brother, Lieutenant Sullivan also had ties to the wave of Irish immigrants in the 1840s.

 Wes’ friend Kate Valdez is obviously part Mexican, which would be realistic for a woman in either California or Colorado.  Kate just sounded like a good, solid name for an old friend.

 In case you’re interested, the title comes from the silver and gold mined in Colorado, but also my heroine (with the silver blonde hair) and my hero (with the golden blond hair).

Do you have any unusual stories about how your characters get their names?


How I come up with names for my characters

    When I started to write Kentucky Green I had an idea of the time (1794) and place (Kentucky frontier) for the   setting as well as some vague plot ideas.  But the hero and heroine only become real to me when I find out, or give them their names. Part of the names came from my family history and part comes from my study of history.  Like they say, write what you know.

 For my hero’s back story (all the stuff you know about what made your character who and what they are at the start of the book) I gave him a Scottish grandfather, so his last name is McKenzie. Grandfather, as so many Scottish immigrants to America settled west of the Appalachians Mountains, where the land reminded them of the hill of Scotland.  Grandfather married a Shawnee Indian woman, so the hero’s father was a half-breed, so my hero is ¼ Indian, and therefore subject to some racial prejudices.  Looking at historical characters of the time, Daniel Boone stands out – not only was he a person active at the time and place I wanted to set my story, Boone was also noted as being much more open minded and known to treat people for who they were, not for their race.  So I imagined that my hero’s father and Daniel Boone went hunting together.  (my family history tells of  one of my great, great, however many greats grandfather used to go hunting with Daniel Boone.  So, if Boon treated my hero’s father well, so it was obvious that he would name his son after a friend, which was a common way to name at that time.  So my hero is Daniel Boone McKenzie. (more…)

A Rose By Any Other Name

A Rose By Any Other Name

When starting a story, one of the things I really put thought into is the names of my characters. And when writing a historical, you want to get names that fit your characters as well as give some authenticity to the time period you’re writing.

Always consider the impact of your characters names. Not just any name will do. Why do you thing Marion Morrison changed his name when he became an actor? For example, a friend of mine was writing a contemporary with a heroine who was supposed to be somewhat of a free spirit, unorganized and dressed in lots of bead and flowing skirts. Now there is nothing wrong with this, but she was having trouble making the character work. She had named the character Taylor. As I pointed out to her, the name and its conations did not match the heroine she was trying to create. So once she changed the characters name to something for in line with the actual character she was creating, the story went much better.

(By the way, the name Marion Morrison used when he started acting in cowboy movies was John Wayne.)

In one of my favorite author’s one book has a heroine named Niema. Now, how do I pronounce that (even if it’s only in my head)? Neigh-ma? Knee-I-ma? Nay-ma? And by the time the author gave me the information on how to pronounce it, I’d been doing it wrong, so every time thereafter, I stumbled over this name, having to think if I was reading/pronouncing it correctly.

So if you character has an unusual name, or one where the spelling doesn’t match the pronunciation, be sure to give the reader a clue as to how they pronounce their name as soon a possible. For example, if your medieval heroine’s name is spelled Brighid (after St. Brighid) you have to let your reader know that it’s most to be pronounced as ‘Bride’. This traditional spelling of Brighid has morphed into the modern Brigitte.

If you’re writing historicals you probably won’t want to call your heroine Tiffany. And while the name Mildred is a nice historical name you might not want to use that either as it will not strike the modern reader’s ear with any harmony. So you have to find that nice middle ground where the name is historical, but easy on the modern ear.

Another thing to remember that many names that are given to females today were traditionally and historically male names. Today a person with the name Ashley is most likely female, but just over a hundred years ago it was a man’s name (remember who Scarlett was in love with at the beginning of Gone With the Wind?). The same goes for the names Stacy, Tracy, Courtney, Terry, Leslie, Shirley. Even in England today you can find men named Beverly and Evelyn.

When I start a story, I look at the character’s background and see if there is a clue there for the name. While writing KENTUCKY GREEN, I knew my hero grew up on the Kentucky frontier. I wanted him to have all the skills of a frontiersman (which would be used in the story), and knew that his father was a half-breed. When you think of the Kentucky frontier the name Daniel Boone always comes to mind. And Boone was known for not being prejudiced against Indians. So I made my hero’s father a hunting companion of Daniel Boone, and so, following the fashion of that time, the hero was named after his father’s friend, and became Dan.

I did push my luck with the heroine in KENTUCKY GREEN, as her name is April (the month she was born). But in the story April functions as spring/light that helps rescue Dan from his dark/winter personality.

If you are lucky, your characters will tell you what their name is. When doing brainstorming on the plot and characters, one of the things you can do is a first person biography or interview of your character. I used this technique when working on COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD for the hero. The hero ‘told’ me “My name is Samuel Jacob Westmoreland. My mother died when I was born and my father never forgave me for it.” So since his father’s name was Sam also, my hero became known a Wes. The origins of his name are vital to the story and how he relates to the heroine.

For my heroine, I wanted to name her Julie, which wasn’t too likely, so I made her father a fan of Shakespeare, and her name is really Juliette, and her sister Cordelia after Shakespeare characters.

In my WIP (work in progress), the hero’s goal is to reclaim the ranch that his family lost when rustlers killed his father. So for his name, I chose Clay which relates to the earth, which is his goal.

Who are some of your favorite characters? Do you like to read stories where the character have your name? Or the hero your brother’s name?

(and yes, this is my real first name, my dad wouldn’t even spring for Teresa)