Still plenty of stormy seas, but I’m trying to snatch time here and there to work on this revision. I’ve been examining subplot arcs, checking for inconsistencies in the main plot, and tracking scenes to see how they build (or don’t) from one another. Sometimes this is fun, particularly when I see a way to do something better, but some days it’s slog, slog, slog.
Fortunately I also have a few characters who need new names, and for me naming is pure indulgence. Since just about everything I write is historical, it’s an excuse to go dipping into all kinds of fabulous primary sources — ships’ lists and census data and church records and diaries — trawling for names and nicknames.
I’ve been known to spend days, even weeks doing this, mostly because it’s so delicious. The best part is finding a name that is both historically appropriate and apt for the character in question, but happening on wildly inappropriate names has its merits, too. I’ve yet to write a novel about early Puritans, but with names like Repentance and Faint-not (not to mention Safe-on-high and Small-hope), it’s tempting.
Thanks to the internet, I can now search for just about any kind of name in any kind of period (17th century Dutch surnames, anyone?), and be sure of coming up with extensive, well-researched lists. Genealogy sites are wonderful for this. Depending on the era I’m working in, I also spend time over at the SCA’s Medieval Names Dictionary or at the Social Security Administration’s site on Popular Baby Names (which lists the top 1000 names by decade, starting in the 1880s).
Wonderful as the internet is, however, I also rely a lot on books. My favorite is The Oxford Dictionary of First Names, which I ran across when we were trying to name our daughter. I used this as an excuse to buy more naming books than anyone has a right to, but this is the one that’s been most useful to me as a writer. It gives me the lowdown on meanings, origins, and relationships between names: Where else would I learn that Marigold and Rosemary had their beginnings in the 19th craze for flower names, but that Rose has its roots in the early Middle Ages?