Whatsisname? An author's game of choices

I’ve spoken before of my obsession with names. Agonising over what title to use and what surnames to bestow upon my characters is another time-wasting phenomenon chez Bailey.

Really, I could just pick any name to go with the chosen Christian names. But not a bit of it. When beginning a book, I pore through my various sources and not only name the main characters, but make lists which I can dip into for minor characters who are bound to pop up. I need aristocratic sounding names for titles as well as names that will sound well on a valet, butler, maid or footman, or a shopkeeper. Perhaps a Bow Street Runner.

Names have got to suit the character, and very often their occupation too. So not just any name will do. The fact that it gives me so much pleasure to choose names is merely by the way. Once chosen, though, it makes sense to check any name applied to the main titled characters against Google search, in case it turns out to be a real title currently in use.

I have three sources for surnames. Following the tradition set by Georgette Heyer, the main one is an old Road Atlas of the British Isles. An absolute treasure trove of wonderful names that roll off the tongue and are just a joy to pronounce. Just check out this little corner of one page of said Atlas.

Can’t you just see the characters popping up?

Miss Wimpstone, the governess

Marston, the butler

Paxford, the landlord of the inn, or he might be a groom

Lady Honeybourne, the dotty great-aunt

Viscount Idlicote, the annoying suitor the heroine can’t get rid of

Annabella Darlingscott, the reigning belle who is waspish and jealous of our heroine

See what I mean? Any more of this and I’ll have to excuse myself to go off and write the story.

For my next trick, there’s the invaluable Leslie Dunkling Guinness Book of Names. He’s got a wealth of wonderful surnames listed by county. Here’s the list for Gloucestershire.

I’ve already got Miss Flook from this list – she’s my widow’s companion in an upcoming Brides by Chance Regency Adventure, Widow in Mistletoe. Pegler is my lady’s maid in another one, Damsel to the Rescue. And I’ve got a definite hankering to use Bubb, Croome and Stinchcombe. I’m pretty sure I’ve already used Tuffley, but Gazard and Wintle are calling to me as well.

My last source is the fabulous Stufflebeem, Brockway & Sturt, by Shelley Klein.

This gem of a book gives the origins of names, which can help with character as well as simply providing lists of names alphabetically. This comes in handy when I’m in danger of having too many names starting with the same letter. I can locate an unused letter and browse through that list to find a name that fits. The only name from this snippet from the book I’ve used is Lord Hetherington, the hero of the third in my Brides by Chance Regency Adventures (already out), Knight for a Lady.

As an illustration of how fascinating and useful a map can be, I give you the bluestocking set in the last of the Brides by Chance Regency Adventure stories (to be published by Sapere in due time), Taming the Vulture. These were picked wholesale and are genuine double-barrelled names of towns.

Pelham Ferneux, the handsome, showy literary type who actually produces next to nothing

Moreton Pinckney, the critic who panned my hero’s last work of poetry

Stanford Dingley, the historian and friend of my hero

Carleton Rode, the respected essayist

Aspatria Glasson, the champion of the rights of women

Honestly, could I have thought these up by myself? I rest my case.

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ELIZABETH BAILEY

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