By Liz, excited to welcome Dianne Freeman back to the blog! She’s talking about character naming, which can definitely get complicated. Take it away, Dianne!
I am something of a name collector. Names are such an important part of our personalities and often the first thing we learn about someone. If someone I meet shares a name with someone in my past, it isn’t uncommon for me to give them personality traits they haven’t necessarily earned. I have never met a Kelly who wasn’t optimistic, so when I meet a new Kelly, it’s easy for me to assume they will have the typical “Kelly” optimism. If they don’t, something feels off. Their personality just doesn’t match their name—for me.
This means naming a character can be a complicated process. The protagonist in the Countess of Harleigh series had a handful of names before I settled on Frances. I looked up popular baby names for the early 1870s, found one I liked, and that’s what I called her—until I got to know her better. In each draft of the first book, I gave her a different name. By the end of that draft, it didn’t fit her anymore. When I landed on Frances, I knew immediately it was the perfect fit.
Though none of my other characters went through so many iterations of their names, I rarely feel like I know a character until I’ve finished the first draft. At that point, I sometimes have to change a name. That means a character’s name as it appears in the outline that I submit to my editor is no longer correct. In itself, that’s not a problem, but my editor writes the cover copy—the blurb—for the book, so I have to be careful to let him know if a name has changed.
This time, I missed it.
Some of you may be familiar with the author, Ashley Winstead. She and I share the same agent and we’re part of a group chat. When I wrote the outline for A Newlywed’s Guide to Fortune and Murder, I used her name. It suited my purpose perfectly. I needed a name for a family of titled British aristocrats. The family name is Ashley. The title is Winstead. There’s a Jonathon Ashley, Viscount Winstead, an Augusta Ashley, the dowager Viscountess Winstead, and so on. In the final draft I kept Ashley, but changed the title. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my editor when he wrote the cover copy, which was already on all the retail sites and marketing materials. The easiest fix was for me to change the title back to Winstead, which I did.
Then I had to contact Ashley, let her know what happened, and cross my fingers that she wouldn’t mind that I used her name. Fortunately, she didn’t, but she reserved the right to use mine for one of her books. I’m just hoping my namesake character doesn’t die a horrible death!
Readers, do certain names make you expect certain traits of people? Leave a comment below for a chance to win your choice of books 1-5 in the Countess of Harleigh series.
With her new husband George busy on a special mission for the British Museum, Frances has taken on an assignment of her own. The dowager Viscountess Wingate needs someone to sponsor her niece, Kate, for presentation to Queen Victoria. Frances—who understands society’s quirks and constraints as only an outsider can—is the perfect candidate.
Kate is charming and intelligent, though perhaps not quite as sheltered as she might first appear. More worrying to Frances is the viscountess’s sudden deterioration. The usually formidable dowager has become shockingly frail, and Frances suspects someone may be drugging her. The spotlight falls on Kate, who stands to inherit if her aunt passes, yet there are plenty of other likely candidates within the dowager’s household, both above and below stairs.
Joining forces with her beloved George, Frances comes to believe that the late viscount, too, was targeted. And with the dowager seeming to be in greater danger every day, they must flush out the villain before she follows in her husband’s footsteps, directly to the grave.
Dianne Freeman is the author of the Agatha and Lefty award-winning Countess of Harleigh Mystery series and a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark and the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. After thirty years of corporate accounting, she now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at www.difreeman.com or find her on Facebook or Instagram.