Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What's in a Georgian Name?

by Jenna Jaxon

What’s in A Georgian Name? I’ve always been fascinated by the naming of characters. I thought it very fun when first reading Jo Beverly’s Malloren series, in which the heroes and heroines (brothers and sisters of one family) had outrageous Anglo-Saxon names of English kings and queens. Beowulf, Elfled, Cynric, Brand, Bryght. So colorful. And so I started some traditions in my characters’ families. I have one family now who names children after Shakespearean characters; another after Italian Renaissance artists. These names make writing fun, give characters distinction.
Lady Elizabeth Stanley, Countess of Derby
Jules Bache Collection, 1949.

But did families from the past really give their children outlandish names? According to sources, most aristocratic families named their children either Germanic or classical names, while working class parents used biblical names. The exceptions were Sarah and Suzannah, which were popular with both classes. I’ve done some research on names, particularly Georgian because many of my Regency heroes and heroines were born at the end of the Georgian era and would likely still have those names as well as those born in the mid-1700s. What I have found is that most often Georgians named their children very ordinary names (by our standards).

The most popular boy’s name was, of course, George, after the monarchs of the age. Followed closely by John, William, Edward, Peter, Frederick, Charles, Henry, Anthony, Daniel, Philip, Robert, Thomas, James, Richard, and Alexander.

Popular girl’s names included Elizabeth, Jane, Alethea, Augusta, Frederica, Georgina or Georgiana, Harriet, Henrietta, Mary, Louisa, Frances (Fanny), Charlotte, Lucy, and Catherine. But of course, there are the more unusual names as well—something to catch the eye: for men there was Octavius, Cuthbert, Marmaduke, Valentine, Theophilus, Horatio, Erasmus, Americus, Busick, Bamber, Coape, Hildebrand, Peregrine, and Soulden. For the ladies you find Albina, Horatia, Lilias, Theodosia, Uriana, Keziah, Euphemia, and Philidelphia (I sort of questioned that last one, but discovered it was quite popular in Sussex County, England!).

I still think it is fun to use unusual names for characters. The hero of my upcoming release, Only A Mistress Will Do, is named Tristan (mostly because I like that name) but a better rationale comes out in the story as well. The late, great Jo Beverley gave the advice that if you use unusual names have a reason for the usage, and have characters around that character react to the strangeness of that name. Sound advice which I will continue to heed.


Melissa Keir said...

I remember back in German class having to choose a German name to be used in class. What a fun adventure. I was Hilda. At least I could spell and pronounce it. :)

Congrats on your latest book! Looks like another winner!

Jenna said...

Thank you, Melissa! In Russian class I had to pick a Russian name. I was Melania, although my friends insisted on calling me Skyia. Names are so much fun to choose, for yourself or for you characters. :)

Donna Hatch said...

I adore the name Tristan--it is the name of a book that I just submitted to my editor. It goes way back to William the Conquerer. I think Marmaduke is such a fun name, although I can't see myself naming a hero named that unless I want to give him a cool nickname.

Jenna said...

I agree about Marmaduke--I always think of the Great Dane in the cartoon. :) Although I do remember in Downton Abbey, Robert's sister's late husband was named Marmaduke. But to me it sounds pretty silly. That would be a challenge to have a hero have to overcome the handicap of his name to win the heroine. Sort of like The Importance of Being Earnest. LOL And yes, a cool nickname would be a must!

Barbara Bettis said...

So many of those names you mentioned we find odd now. Although when I was young, there was an elderly lady in our small town who was named Euphemia. We knew her as Miss Mimi. I've had to research medieval names and found, like you have, that just a few names were used extensively.

Jenna said...

I actually used Euphemia and Urania to mask a name I quite ashamedly made up, Celinda, from my Handful of Hearts series. I had them be Celinda's sisters, so it looks like all the sisters have very distinct names. And throughout the series, Celinda bemoans her unusual name and really wants to have a name like Jane or Mary. :)

Beppie Harrison said...

I've had a certain amount of pleasure naming my parsimonious son of the heroine Rupert, simply because a friend of mine in England named her children Rupert and Miranda--Rupert as a family name, in spite of the circumstance that there is a series of British children's books about Rupert, who is (I think) a rabbit or perhaps a bear? Can't remember. Neither of my children who were exposed primarily to picture books in England were much taken by him.

As for Celinda, whether it is authentically of the period or not, one of the women I interviewed when writing my book about women in American politics (Crown published it, back in the 80's) was Celinda Lake, who was then a Democratic pollster, if I remember right, and has since become a professional campaign aide, I believe. Never asked her how she got her name. It sounded good to me!

Jenna said...

How cool! I guess I didn't make it up after all! :) I still think it's pretty! :)