Top 5 Overused Names in Historical Romance Novels

While reading several Regency novels, I’ve noticed a certain pattern to the names of characters.

Ladies:

  1. Lily/Lillian – I’ve actually lost count how many times I’ve seen this name come up.  Somehow, every Lily is a naive hoyden on the run from someone.  As someone who used to find it adorable, I could do without seeing it in a Regency story ever again.
  2. Isabella/Isabel/Isabelle/Belle/Bella – This name was gaining popularity even before the Twilight books came out, but can just one of them not be clumsy?
  3. Molly – The favored name of chambermaids and street rats.
  4. Grace – Too often used as the joke, “Grace/Your Grace”
  5. Charity, Chasity, Patience, Passion, Prudence – I know virtue names were a thing at one point, but sometimes they come off far too Mary Sue in trying to make the character from the actual virtue.

Names that get a pass because they’re historically accurate in their usage: Jane, Elizabeth, Anne, Joan, Mary, Marie, Julia, Emma, Lydia, Sophia, Kate, Catherine, Charlotte.  Overall, the overuse of female names happens less often than it does with male names.

Gentlemen:

  1. Sebastian – The arrogant noble guy who always ends doing the right thing, in spite of himself.  Self-righteous to the bone.
  2. Jack – The ideal name for the rogue, misunderstood younger son of some nobleman.  Also known as “the black sheep” of the family.
  3. Rafe – Pretty much the self-made man with an ignoble yet slightly noble background.
  4. Tristan – This is one of my favorite male names and I’ve used it in Regency, but I’m a little weary of seeing it now. Often he’s the good, not twisted hero with more whimsy in his character than most other heroes.
  5. Gabriel – This name often emphasizes the avenging angelic nature of the hero.

Names that get a pass because they’re historically accurate in their proliferate usage: Edward, Henry, Richard, Michael, John.

It’s not the common usage of names that’s obnoxious (in real life it happens all the time), it’s that the names have become stock characters.

The ABC’s of Naming

Naming characters can be a pretty grueling process.  Or for some folks, the names jump out at them.  Either way, please for the love of God don’t use too many names that are too similar or all start with the same letter.  It makes reading more difficult for the reader because in print, the words start blurring together.

For example, in Lynsay Sands’ novel Bliss (which inspired this post), the hero is Hethe, Lord of Holden aka “The Hammer” (it really takes an effort not to hear Wrestlemania when I see that name). Our  heroine is Helen.  They are ordered by King Henry to marry to stop their quarreling.  Adding to the melee is Helen’s Aunt Nell, whom she is named after.  Looking at the names repeat over and over again gave me a headache, and while I liked the story I felt like I had to put in extra effort to keep the characters straight.

On paper, they look like the same person.  It’s hard to tell them apart because of the way people read:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.