This blog follows how a romance novel set in the Borders of medieval Scotland is researched, written and hopefully *hopefully* published.

Join me on the writing journey and get inspired to try writing a little romance into your own life!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What's in a Name--Naming and Placing Bad Guys

So last night after my other work was done, I took my printed baby (only once did my printer try to devour a page--yay!) and started actually reading it again. The newly inserted paragraphs seem to work to build the bridge I felt was lacking in the beginning, so now I can definitely check off number 1 on my list of questions. My hero's there, even if readers won't be certain immediately of his role.

I did some editing, too. You know, using alternate word choices so I don't sound repetitive. And then-- I had to face the dreaded blanks.

If you don't immediately know what I mean, you probably don't write like I do (to each their own). When I'm throwing stuff onto a page, my brain's generally moving so fast with text that my fingers can't keep up (no surprise since I'm still "hunt and peck"). But that also means if I stop to re-evaluate something, a word, a forgotten name or location, I risk losing the rest of the flow that follows. So I leave blanks to fill in later, or throw down a weaker word with quotes around it. Anyhow, those blanks are my nemeses.

Between last night and this morning, I faced them down. And these were the worst of their type--family names.

So, what's in a name, really?

Unfortunately a lot. The ballads of Tam Lin (on which my "Hollow Hearts and Hollow Hills" is based) are pretty well documented. There is a basic time period when the ballads were sung and popularized before which the idea must have sprouted from something. The names (different ones in different versions) are almost all names that can still be traced to families in the Borders region of Scotland today. These are families with a rich heritage, grand history and a strong sense of pride. These are, after all, Scots.

So, although when I'm naming my hero and heroine's families most people probably won't get upset by being their fictional descendents, the real trouble comes when I had to choose my villain's name (I actually have a couple villains, but naming one was a snap because it's a relatively crazy fantasy name--pronounceable, but less definable).

I had established my male villain's title of "Lord" (nice and anonymous) a while ago. I had even found a last name that NEVER appeared in any of my research of the area, but sounded like it could. Whew! But, I needed to tell where he was from (or where he held land) because in the period I'm writing about, your location is a very important part of identifying you.

I found one name in the ballads: "Robinson," that could not be traced back to historical accounts in the area. It seemed like a viable choice (if I need to change my villain's name), but I couldn't find any location in the region to actually pin it down to. So it's probably going to sit on the "back burner" unless I absolutely need it.

I did some more looking at a great site-- "Undiscovered Scotland." I found a couple options for his origin. Not because the areas seem like places bad guys would hang out, but simply because they sound odd to American ears. Since I'm aiming at an American market, I think that makes sense. So, although I'm not 100% sold on any one of them yet (I need to see how they sound in the text before settling down with one) I feel I've made progress.

All in all, although I only hit the one page mark for writing so far today, I feel things are growing stronger and I'll have a better book to submit.

So...How do you name your "big bads?"

Just wondering...


RomanceWriter said...

The best characters are the ones that speak to me. The tell me their names and at times it is names I don't even like.
The only villan I have written so far was named Garret Ramsey. Right now I am having a heck of a time naming the fourth main character in my current tale. He wants to be named Irving. I am resisting.

RomanceWriter said...

I linked to you on my blog.

The Wandering Author said...

Saoirse, thanks for your comment. I was glad I learned of the tree's condition myself before it happened. I wanted to let anyone else who cared know about it, if I could. I'm glad you had the chance to see it by web cam.

What I've read of your blog so far is interesting. I have a few suggestions for you in terms of naming villains. First of all, in most areas there was usually at least one family that was so known for villainy, even their descendants couldn't object to the use of the surname... If all the histories give their ancestors a black name, they can hardly object if fiction follows suit.

Second, as well as historical sources, try genealogical ones. See if they give you any clearer idea of what families lived in a particular area, etc. If you haven't used this site, has a lot of resources that might be of some help.

Saoirse Redgrave said...


I know a G. Ramsey (but not a Garret). My Ramsey would probably grin (wickedly) at the thought of being a villain in most anyone's writing (as he's an actor).

I have had instances where characters' names have just come to me and announced themselves (I've also dreamed alot of action and character and loved the way those tales came out as a result).

If you've never checked out please do. It's a remarkable resource for names from all areas and times and generally includes their origins and believed meanings. It's dangerous though--I've occasionally been snared there by my own curiosity for hours at a time!

Thanks for linking to me! :-) Yay!


Saoirse Redgrave said...

Hi Wandering Author!

Yes, I have noticed (my background is in history and languages) that many places do have a family of, or a singular villain that few can argue with. I guess I'd prefer to not use their names (in a case where it's more easily avoided) because it always makes me wonder "What if that person's great-great-great-great- whatever is desperatley trying to remove the stigma and shadow of their heritage, while retaining the link to what was perhaps a great family before that nasty generation?"

Although my family was never "evil" or "villainous," there are some in the background that we might rather forget. I certainly don't want to dredge up something even more negative for someone I don't know who is living today (especially in a country I'd like to visit ;-).

But that is probably just my perception--I do truly appreciate your thoughts on the matter :-)

I have used --it's great as a resource. Good recipes there, too ;-)

I've also used . It's filled with great information (genealogical, geographical, historical and musical).

There are other sources I've used, too--How awful would it be to have a bibliography as the last pages of a romance (my biblio's 2 typed pages already, and not neatly formatted yet)?

Yes, research is my not-so-secret passion ;-)

I welcome people who share other handy resources here--We all improve by sharing.

Thanks again, Wandering Author, and readers, check out the Wandering Author's blog about the Anne Frank chestnut tree (why the post began as it did). Someday I'll figure out how to post links in here... ;-)


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