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Ever experience what you think is a small job become something major like scraping off that bit of peeling paint to do a touch up only to find yourself repainting an entire room?

That’s how I’m feeling right now as I search for a new name for my heroine of my second novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. Her current name is Acha, but that is too similar to Alda, the heroine of my first novel, The Cross and the Dragon.

To further complicate matters, my heroine is a pagan Continental Saxon, a society that didn’t have a written language as we know it at the time. So I turned to their cousins, the Anglo-Saxons.

While searching Google books, I came across and gem–or a trap, depending on how you label it: The Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum. Published in 1897, it is a huge list of Anglo-Saxon names before and after the Domesday Book, the latter commissioned by William the Conqueror to take inventory.

Statue of Widukind

Widukind memorial in Herford, Germany, rebuilt from an 1899 sculpture by Heinrich Wefing. (By M. Kunz via Wikimedia Commons, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.)

As I read about naming conventions, I was presented with a new issue. Family members had similar names, too similar for my taste. Kentish Earl Eormenred’s children were Eormenbeorh, Eormenburh, and Eormengyth. On the Continent, the Saxon ruler Widukind (also spelled Wittekind) had a son named Wigbert (also spelled Wichbert and Wibreht), who in turn named his own son Waltbert.

Not only do I have to change Acha’s name, but also her daughter, her brother, and her nephews. The challenge: stay mostly true to how Saxons named their children but not confuse the reader. I have a few factors on my side.

  • My characters are fictitious, which provides a lot of flexibility
  • The second element of the name (deuterotheme for the academics) could be repeated in children’s names instead of the first part (prototheme).
  • The themes have variant spellings, and my illiterate characters wouldn’t know how to spell their own names anyway.
  • Characters go by only one name in this society.

So my first tentative character list:

Leova: my heroine
Derwine: her husband
Leofwine: her son
Sunwynn: her daughter

Leodwulf: her brother
Wulfgar: Leodwulf’s son
Ludgar: his other son
Ebbe: Leodwulf’s wife

So I have four characters with names that not only start with L but use variants of Leof. I thought it was sweet for Derwine to think so much of his wife he would incorporate part of her name into his son’s, but I wonder if it would be easier for the readers if her name were even more different than her children’s.

If I choose the prototheme Neri for my heroine, the character list could be something like:

Nerienda: my heroine
Derwine: her husband
Leofwine: her son
Sunwynn: her daughter

Neriwulf: her brother
Wulfgar: Neriwulf’s son
Nasbert: his other son
Ebbe: Neriwulf’s wife

I like Leova better as a name for my heroine, even if it does mean having four variants of a prototheme, but I would like to hear from readers. What are your thoughts on these characters’ names? I want them to sound like they are from a different time but still be accessible.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like an earlier post about the Franks’ tradition of recycling names, a true challenge when writing about historical characters.