I’m doing a lot of it these days. I’m well into my next book and it’s the first of a brand new series. Each character–major or minor, hero or butler–has to be named. So does every village, house, and street. It’s exhausting. I have a lot of ??? in the manuscript, indicating a name to be named later.
When I name a character, the first thing I consider is his/her parents. Who were they and what were they thinking come christening time? I try and come up with something period appropriate, but if I was being realistic the odds are most characters would be named John or George, Jane or Mary. So I branch out a bit and search for names that were in use during the period and are suitable for the character’s background. And of course the name must suit the character. The heroine of The Dangerous Viscount was originally named Marianne. But she just wasn’t a Marianne. Half way through the writing process I sat down with a yellow pad and wrote down names until I hit on Diana. Her younger sister had been Arabella, but I decided her father had a thing for goddesses and Arabella became Minerva.
If a name is unusual, I usually explain it in the book. The heroine of my first book, Never Resist Temptation, was named Jacobin. Her English mother named her for King James I, the founder of her family fortune. Her French father, a moderate revolutionary, appreciated the irony that she was named for the extreme party.
But I don’t believe I ever explained how Tarquin Compton, hero of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, got his name. The truth is, I’m not sure. I know how I settled on his surname (not an interesting story) but Tarquin? WTF? Tarquin has been with me for a long time. He was the hero’s best friend in my first book, a work of genius that will remain forever unpublished. When I jettisoned the book and the hero, I kept Tarquin. By the time I wrote his book he was so real to me I didn’t worry about his name. There was no way I would change it. I could say his father had a passion for Roman history, but it doesn’t seem right. Besides, the Roman Tarquin was a bit of a rapist (see picture above). What I now know about the older Mr. Compton is much more down to earth. Since hindsight is 20-20 I shall now disclose that his mother had a futuristic dream about Lawrence Olivier and decided to name her son after his son. No? Never mind.