What’s in a name? Guest Dianne Freeman and a #giveaway

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.

About A Newlywed’s Guide to Marriage and Murder:

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.

40 Thoughts

  1. Congratulations, Dianne! The book sounds like another winner.

    Names have shapes and personalities, for sure. Here’s a story: my father’s never-married aunt Ruth lived with Miss Lacey (I have no idea of their real relationship), who we kids called Aunt Lacey. One of the two was short and round and the other tall and angular. My mother’s mother was also Ruth, as was my dad’s sister, and they both were short and rounded. It wasn’t until after both Ruth and Miss Lacey had died that I learned I’d had their names reversed – Ruth was the tall angular one!

    1. Thanks, Edith! Someone I used to see on a weekly basis called me Donna, then corrected herself, every single time we met. Somehow, I was living up to her Donna expectations. I would have loved to meet the original!

  2. Congratulations on the latest Frances book and thank you for a wonderful glimpse behind the scenes of authorland. So glad the 21st century Ashley agreed to sponsor the name.

    I agree that names do shape characters. Haleys are always lots of fun, Claires are kind and loving. Or is it because we get what we expect????? A question for another day.

  3. Congratulations on “A Newlywed’s Guide to Marriage and Murder”! It’s on my TBR list and I can’t wait to read it.

    I’m fascinated in long or unusual first names. Maybe because my name is so short and plain (Kay) that is why I’m that way. Longer names have me thinking of history or names passed down through the generation. Not some of the made up names we hear this day, but the names with character. Then I enjoy names with special spelling or sounding one way and spelled another. Another case in point in my own life is our daughter’s name. It’s pronounced Jeanette, but spelled Jenet. I use to laughingly say that I wasn’t French so I didn’t need all those extra letters. Maybe to me it means standing out in the crowd or the willingness to be different.

    Thank you for the fabulous chance to win one of your books.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Long or unusual names are more attention grabbing. I am certainly less likely to forget an unusual name, though I may not spell it correctly! I love the name Jenet!

  4. Hi the name Dianne brings to mind a person who is smart and funny where as a name like Ruth makes me think they are rigid or stern. My own name Deborah just seems to make me think of a biblical person.

    1. Hi Deborah! Your name is for me the exception to the rule. Both my brothers married Deborahs and they are very different people, so I don’t expect a specific trait when I meet someone with that name–well, I take that back. I expect to be surprised! Deborah is a great name!

  5. Congratulations Diane on A Newlywed’s Guide to Marriage and Murder!!! Sounds just like my cuppa! I loved your explanation about selecting names for your characters! It is not an easy task, as we readers may think! Common names do not automatically make me think of certain traits for a character, but other names remind me of someone, and I seem to just assign that person’s characteristics to the person in the book. Sometimes my mind overrides what I read…Sarah’s short blonde hair is ignored, and I continue to imagine Sarah with the dark, long hair that I automatically assigned her to have. Yikes…go figure! Some names like ART make me laugh as I remember some kid jokes like “What do you call someone hanging out by the wall? Art.” Thank you so much! Luis at ole dot travel

    1. Thanks, Luis! I too sometimes disregard the author’s description of a character and use my own. That’s part of the joy of reading!

  6. I never really thought about how names shape characters. It does make sense though! Thanks for the chance! Love the book cover!

  7. Welcome back and congratulations on the new book! Some days just pop into my head and others get changed a lot. One time I sent a manuscript to my independent editor and couldn’t think of a character name so used “blank.” And then I used it as a placeholder for a last name in a few spots forgetting to fix all that before I sent it. She called and said, “that Blank family is really big.” Oops! But we had a good laugh over it.

    1. That’s a good one! I do the same thing, but I usually go with Whatsis for a placeholder or if I just can’t remember the character’s name. So far, I haven’t forgotten to change it!

  8. Congratulations on the new book! I never thought about this before, but you’re right. There is one name that still makes me tense up from head to toe because this person was so awful. I guess I am a little leery of people with that name.

    1. Hi Violet. I think we’ve all experienced that feeling. It’s such a relief when the new person turns out to be better than the original.

  9. I have never met (in person) a Stephanie that wasn’t stuck-up. I had a manager that called me Sara for over a year, made everyone else laugh because after a while I didn’t bother to correct him, I just answered him. He said I looked like a Sara.

    1. Isn’t it funny how unique this is to each of us? I know some kind and lovely Stephanies and I’m sure you know Saras who look nothing like you! And Donna’s who look nothing like me!

  10. Yes!! Susan! She was the terror of the fourth grade. Bossy and a Bully I’ll always remember her. If I meet a Susan, my mind immediately jumps to 4th grade and the new Susan has one strike against them, out of the gate. So, my apologies to all the lovely Susans out there.

    1. A bad memory associated with a name can be a challenge. But I’m sure those lovely Susans win you over quickly–exceeding your expectations of them by just not being mean!

  11. I have some names that hold bad memories for me. I try not to judge people by their name and give them a fair chance though. I have learned with time to try and not let a person’s name influence me to think poorly of them since I know that is unfair.

    1. That’s a very good practice. I have reached an age where I don’t recall the names of people I’ve had bad experiences with, so my name associations are all good ones!

  12. Yes, names definitely can define a character for me. I can usually overcome it, but occasionally some poor person gets stuck in my hang up. My name is Ginny, but I’ve been called Jenny, Janet, Gigi, Nancy, Bonnie, and somehow, Carol. I gave up. I just answer to whatever (which so far no one has called me 😁.)

    Looking forward to book five!

  13. Congratulations on your new release. I think people usually fit their names and when you met another person with that name you associate the traits to that person because of the name.

    1. Thank you, Dianne. You strike me as a person of great intelligence, charm, wit, and of course, humility! 😉 (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

  14. Congrats 👏 Your book sounds great! I do believe people’s names fit who they are.

  15. I really enjoy this series. When I was younger my name was unique in my area…I wanted to be a Barbara or a Linda…now I have grown into it…

  16. Thank you! I always thought my name was pretty straightforward, but people mispronounced it all the time when I was younger. I was even called Deanna a few times. I really liked it, so I didn’t correct them! lol!

  17. Congratulations on your captivating novel. A most interesting post. I have always been fascinated by names. Choosing one, changing them and accepting yours. Very thought provoking and fun.

  18. Congratulations on the new book! On order from my local library, looking forward to returning to this particular world.

    For almost the first year of shopping at a San Francisco newsstand/chocolate shop (regretfully closed), Adam the proprietor thought my name was Lorraine or something w/an ‘L’. We hadn’t really spoken, I often had a headset on as I was on my commute home. Finally when I didn’t respond to something he said, he asked me directly why and I said, “That’s not my name. I’m Mary Beth!”

    I trust Adams, even when they get my name wrong.

    Simon Schama in one of his essays says he always trusts someone named Heather. Got to show this line to the Heather who then worked at the wonderful bookstore in Bishop, CA, and she was tickled pink.

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