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The Write Stuff: A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Ciclavex

Ciclavex Jarl av Nya Sverige
Moderator
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Location
Penn’s Woods
Pronouns
he/him
#3
A very good article, @David Flin

It’s also, of course, something that you highlight the alternate history with if your point of departure is far back enough. George wasn’t an unheard of name in England before the 1700s, with the number of men named for Saint George, but it wasn’t nearly as common as it would become after there’d been a George I, George II and George III. Victoria was essentially unknown among the English before there was a monarch named that, to the point that there was a very significant move in Parliament to try and force her to either adopt a good English name like Mary or Elizabeth upon taking the throne.

Going much further back, Alexander and David were both unheard of as names for actual people walking around in England and Scotland until you had a Scottish queen whose mother was from Eastern Europe and whose daughter became Queen of England. She also introduced the name Constantine, which enjoyed a period of popularity, particularly north of the wall, before sinking back into relative obscurity, while David and Alexander both survived and thrived as perfectly good English and Scottish names.

So naming your characters can very much be an indication for what sort of timeline your characters live in, and what sorts of names are common or uncommon. Have there been Classical revivals? Hardcore Biblical literalist revolutions? Both, at some point in the past, making some Classical and Biblical names stick and others, not so? And, of course, which classes did these trends affect, and where did they do so?

Is yours a timeline where no one bats an eyelash at a trio of brothers named Frederick, Jonathan and Septimius, or is that as odd a combination as it would be in OTL? And, of course, this makes it important what you name your characters — do you want your readers to feel this timeline to be odd, or not?
 

Thande

The Great and Powerful Wizard, Opnohop Moy
Published by SLP
#4
It’s also, of course, something that you highlight the alternate history with if your point of departure is far back enough. George wasn’t an unheard of name in England before the 1700s, with the number of men named for Saint George, but it wasn’t nearly as common as it would become after there’d been a George I, George II and George III. Victoria was essentially unknown among the English before there was a monarch named that, to the point that there was a very significant move in Parliament to try and force her to either adopt a good English name like Mary or Elizabeth upon taking the throne.
An otherwise well-written and -researched 1632 spinoff was ruined for me by the fact that a character (who I think was grandfathered in from Flint 'n' Weber so not this writer's fault) in seventeenth century England is called Victoria.
 

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#5
Is yours a timeline where no one bats an eyelash at a trio of brothers named Frederick, Jonathan and Septimius, or is that as odd a combination as it would be in OTL? And, of course, this makes it important what you name your characters — do you want your readers to feel this timeline to be odd, or not?
If I was going to go for the single biggest simple change here it would be over patrynomic surnames.

It could be quite possible for the historically Welsh fashion of 'name-s' to take root in England over 'name-son', but there's also the possibility for Irish style 'o'-name' or 'o-name' or perhaps something like 'sona-name' or for something from Welsh leading to it being really common to see people walking around called 'Mr. Ayan' or 'Miss Arhos'.
 

David Flin

A home of love and laughter.
#6
If I was going to go for the single biggest simple change here it would be over patrynomic surnames.

It could be quite possible for the historically Welsh fashion of 'name-s' to take root in England over 'name-son', but there's also the possibility for Irish style 'o'-name' or 'o-name' or perhaps something like 'sona-name' or for something from Welsh leading to it being really common to see people walking around called 'Mr. Ayan' or 'Miss Arhos'.
Then, of course, there's the Baker/Baxter issue; AIUI, Baxter derives from Bak-steare, female baker. Baker was a family where a family bakery was headed by a man, and Baxter by a woman. It's been many years since I checked that up, mind you.
 

OwenM

The patronising flippancy of youth
Location
Colwyn Bay/Manchester
Pronouns
He/him
#7
If I was going to go for the single biggest simple change here it would be over patrynomic surnames.

It could be quite possible for the historically Welsh fashion of 'name-s' to take root in England over 'name-son', but there's also the possibility for Irish style 'o'-name' or 'o-name' or perhaps something like 'sona-name' or for something from Welsh leading to it being really common to see people walking around called 'Mr. Ayan' or 'Miss Arhos'.
It's also quite plausible (with PODs rather later than you might think) for actual patronymics, not just patronymic-derived surnames, to still be normal in Wales.
 

Kato

nec minute
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Published by SLP
Location
Birmingham
Pronouns
she/her
#8
A really thought-stimulating article - I always particularly enjoy the insights into another writer's creative process, and the behind the scenes on Bring Me My Bow. Its never a bad idea to plug the first story in a multi-volume series.

Coming up with good names can be tricky, and I say that as someone who chose her own name, and as "Katherine Megan" unintentionally ended up with a Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex tribute act. Its also one of those things in fiction where reality is unrealistic - people in real life do have 'bad' names - ones that don't seem to fit their class/personality/age and so on, or else just don't roll of the tongue. We had a colleague join us at work a few months back. Her name was "Agnes", and everyone immediately had an unspoken assumption in our minds as to her likely age and background. We were of course wrong - she was in her 20s but from a part of the Anglosphere where name fashions have followed different cycles. Ditto a prospective colleague whose name on paper turned out to be more gender-ambiguous than we realised when he arrived for interview.

In fiction I feel these first assumptions need to fit - or else have some in-story justification for why they don't - else they distract from the character the writer is trying to build in the reader's mind.

Picking "period" names I find fun as it allows me to read up on fashions in naming, and immediately authenticates period setting - Abigail for a lower class 18th century village girl, Sir Henry Camerton for a member of the Edwardian (very) minor gentry. Also Florence as something of a subversion for a politically active millennial - though the 4 generation rule for baby names means this isn't overly implausible. Having 'weird' Anglo-Saxon names still in common use in alt-2019 is another personal favorite device - Egbert, Ethelred, Aedward - for a 'softer' AH story.

@Thande had a wonderful throwaway line in The Unreformed Kingdom, where the North American observer from OTL Chicago notes the large number of Polish-origin names and surnames in the Doncaster electoral register as something that would be very unusual or unfamiliar back home - immediately revealing that the alt-USA has had a very different history of 19th and early 20th century immigration. The switch out of Jeremy for Jeremiah in two historical characters was another fun bit of "permanent 1830s" flavour.

In Freedom's Rampart I had the main fictional viewpoint characters given names that were a hint at their demographic archetype - hence Andrew for the Scots original colonist descendant, Kei-Lee for the 2nd gen Cantonese-Otagoan ('easy' to pronounce for an English speaker, transcribes easily enough to "Kylie", but still holds to her roots), Jimmy Chao for her enterprising father who straddles both white and Cantonese communities, and so adopts a slightly ill-fitting "white" name for dealings with the former. Other names were borrowed from an old Russian friend (Lipatov) of similar class background, or else appropriately translated cameos of other SLP authors for most of the single-use characters (Schwartz and Zinn as the journalist and illustrator at The Otago Daily Times for instance).
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#9
This is a useful article because "come up with a full name" is a task that can often have me staring into space going "uh uh uh".