Friday, January 23, 2015

The One Catherine Rule

The first time I wrote a book, I had a Rowan, Reed, Rosie, and Renarda. Yes, Rosie's dead before the story starts and Renarda only shows up in one scene. Yes, Rowan and Reed are twins, so it made sense for them to be similarly named, and they die too. But 4 R's? And three of them plant names? I vowed to never do that again. 
For my next book, I wrote out the alphabet in my story notes and deleted each initial I used. And not just for important characters. If the main character's little sister listened to music, none of the singers could have the same initial a character who walked and talked and did stuff. I think I named one of them Omar. 
In book three I named my villain Marguerite Marie Amalia Walburg. She's Meg most of the time and the spare names only show up when she's signing a letter. Reading over the manuscript a few months later, I was horrified by what I'd done. A secondary character had a long lost wife who was only mentioned by name twice. But when she was? That name was Amalia. How did I do that? 
So I changed Meg's middle name and wrote two more books with no major name conflicts. My latest book had a Chelsea and a Carter. I was at peace with repeating an initial, but only because Carter's a toddler boy, Chelsea's an eighteen year old girl, and they never meet. As I sat down to write this post, I remember Carter's mom is Angela. And she shares a story with Amy. 
I had this grandiose goal to never reuse a main character's initial until I'd written twenty six books.Yes, I know this would culminate in me giving names like Yolanda and Ulalani, but I wanted to stick to it. For diversity's sake. 
Then I picked up Pride and Prejudice. 
Darcy's first name is Fitzwilliam, though it only shows up twice, and he has a cousin called Colonel Fitzwilliam. Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Catherine Bennet. Mary Bennet, Mary King, and Maria Lucas. Sir William Lucas and William Collins. 
There are also gender swapped duplicates. Charles and Charlotte. George and Georgiana. The characters spend a lot of time in formal settings, so they're referred to by last name. That means we have five Miss Bennets running around. Then, to top it all off, Jane Austen went and named the eldest (and prettiest) Bennet sister after herself. 
Jane Austen name cloud courtesy of Baby Name Wizard. The bigger the name the more often it's used.

This cloud doesn't even take nicknames into account. Richards and Dicks are tallied separately. What fascinates me most here is the distinction between Jane and Janet. I read Jane Eyre this summer. The first time Rochester called her Janet, I thought it was a typo. Five Janets later I realized it's a pet form on par with Janie. Austen's characters have a tendency to lapse into nicknames. Characters who barely know Elizabeth think nothing of calling her "Miss Eliza Bennet". Her official family nickname is Lizzy but she never protests to Eliza.
As every family historian knows, name diversity didn't really take off until the twentieth century. Austen's fictional worlds actually have more variety than the one she lived in. A mere twenty characters across six novels are named John or Mary, the classic chart toppers. These ladies aren't alone. Charles Dickens christened the protagonist of A Tale of Two Cities Charles Darnay. Wait.What?Did he just...reuse an initial?I think this my hint to stop obsessing over repetition.

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