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Character names

(6 Posts)
Friedeggsandcustard Fri 19-Apr-19 16:00:47

I am just about to start an historical novel, based on the lives of real people. Unfortunately there is an awful lot of repeated names amongst the characters. Think of a main character whose father, husband and lover all have the same first name!

What’s best, historical accuracy or comprehension for the reader?

ScreamingValenta Sat 20-Apr-19 10:38:30

If it's based on real people I think the names need to be accurate, otherwise you risk alienating people who are knowledgeable about the period.

Could you use artistic licence about how they are known, though? E.g. have one of the characters known by his middle name, another by a nickname or shortening? You could also use their professions or roles as a way of referring to them in the narrative, e.g. 'the doctor' 'or his father' to avoid confusion.

Zilla1 Wed 24-Apr-19 16:48:10

As above, in real life contemporary families where there are family members with the same first name, I've seen use of nicknames, descriptors ('big X' and 'little X'), different versions of the name (Liz, Lizzy, Bess...), initials, other mechanisms (someone with the initials JRR being known as 'Sam' from Tolkien) and so on. If it feels comfortable, I'd maintain some variety for readability.

AnnaComnena Thu 02-May-19 21:40:45

I am a historian, but I think this is one instance where historical accuracy has to give way to comprehensibility. I've just been writing up the history of a family which had several branches living in a small area in the first half of the 18th century, and nearly all the men over several generations were called Edward or John. And they all had the same occupation. If I was writing a novel about them, I'd change some of the names.

(What does put me off reading is when character names aren't appropriate for the time or place.)

CharitySchmarity Thu 17-Oct-19 11:22:01

I read a book by an American author set in Tudor times. It also featured real historical characters and they'd tried to achieve clarity by using different short forms, but some of them really didn't ring true for the period - "Kathy"? Sounds more 1950s/60s to me! I think I would have used their surnames or titles more. If your characters are very famous, that might be the only way you can get around it. If they're less famous you could change some of the names, so long as they're period appropriate (don't have a Gary knocking around in the Wars of the Roses! wink )

AppropriateAdult Thu 17-Oct-19 18:45:14

Wolf Hall suffered from this a bit - every character seemed to be named Thomas, Henry, Mary or Anne. But as a reader you get used to it fairly quickly.

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