A Rose by Any Other Name?
Because their respective families are sworn enemies, Shakespeare’s Juliet uses this argument to persuade herself that Romeo’s surname does not matter: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
But, cries the author of historical romance, would my character be as believable if she was called
instead of, say, Tamasine? Tracy
Well, no. “
”, my Oxford Dictionary of Christian
Names informs me, is a recent import from the Tracy . A short form or nickname for
Teresa, a name itself much in use in the 18th century, at which time the common
nickname was Tess. Nowadays this is usually Tessa. US
Originally Spanish, Teresa goes back to the 5th century as Therasia and was carried across the continents when St Teresa became famous. Tamasine (or Tamsin) is a Cornwall version of Thomasine, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Names sound wrong if they weren’t used in the period, just as old-fashioned names sound strange on modern heroines. I can’t start a story until I’ve got the names sorted out, but I love trawling my dictionary for the right name. I’ve culled names in lists in my notebooks, which I browse too.
There’s one for jewel names: Jade, Sapphire, Amber, Opal. Unusual names: Amphelisia, Faramond, Hypatia, Alured, Salathiel. Names I fall in love with: Ozanne, Pertesia or Gide. French names: Olimpe, Matheu, Violette, Antoine. Italian: Isolina, Ruggero, Zuccari, Lodolini - copied from tombstones in a graveyard in Florence.
I also have a list of names for country people and servants: Gartrett, Audrey, Muriel, Roger, Samuel and the ordinary Dick. The Oxford Dictionary is specific about which class of person used the name at what period in history. Fashionable names tended to get picked up by the working classes, at which point they were promptly dropped by the gentry.
I love playing with names. In Seventh Heaven (soon to be re-released as an ebook) the gag is that the parents of ten children couldn’t be bothered to think of names for them, so called them by Latin numbers - Septimus being the seventh child of the title. In An Angel’s Touch, Verity and her sisters had names from the virtues, but the single brother was called Henry, a source of extreme annoyance to Verity until it turned out to be the hero’s name too.
Often I find I like a nickname, and so I can give the heroine a less pleasant name just to get the contraction. Friday (from Friday Dreaming), for example, for Frideswid.
In A Lady in Name, the hero’s mother is an eccentric obsessed with the Middle Ages who saddles her children with Stefanus and Dionisia (Stefan and Dion to the reader). The whole premise centres around the fact that our heroine Lucy is nameless. If she is a love child, she has no entitlement to the name she bears. Is she or is she not a lady?
The culture of names is endlessly fascinating, whatever the language or country. So hard for prospective parents to choose! As a novelist, I’m lucky to have the joy of picking just the right names every time I create a new set of characters for the latest book.
Shakespeare may be right about roses, but a heroine by any other name is simply not as sweet.
A Lady in Name (Elizabeth Bailey)
Lucy’s world turns upside down when she learns she is the love child of the Earl of Pennington, and not the late vicar’s daughter.