Literary Links

May/June 1997

As this is the premiere issue of Literary Links, I'd like to tell you a bit about each of the sections. Good News and Announcements is just that. This will include upcoming book signings, news of sales, etc.. Please contact me if you have some news to share with our visitors. New On Literary Liaisons is self-explanatory. Anything I add to the site will be noted here. Feature Article will be a new article on either the writing craft or research topics. Editor's Note will be an inspirational piece by yours truly. The FAQ Column will contain those questions presented to me which I think are of importance to our visitors as a whole. Any questions used in the newsletter will remain anonymous unless otherwise approved. Historical Calendar of Events will be a listing of political, social and economic events that shaped the years of Queen Victoria's reign. We will start with the year of her coronation-1837-and continue chronologically until 1901, the year of her death. Fancy graphics and artwork will be excluded from these pages to make it easier to forward e-mail.


Good News and Announcements

June 27, 1997 - AOL Workshop - Michelle Hoppe, creator of Literary Liaisons, will be the guest "speaker" at the Writer's Club Romance Group's workshop "Researching the Romance" on Friday, June 27, 1997 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. Michelle will be discussing the Victorian era. To get to the workshop on AOL, enter keyword WCRG, then click on 'Romance Chat Room,' then 'To the Chat Room.'

July 10-20, 1997 - Your newsletter editor, Michelle Hoppe, will be in London doing hands-on research. As I am a one-person staff for Literary Liaisons at this point, I ask your patience in any replies you may be awaiting at this time.

July 31-Aug 3, 1997 - RWA National Conference, Orlando - The RWA National Conference will be held at the Marriott Orlando World Center. Michelle Hoppe, 1997 Golden Heart Finalist, will be there to represent Literary Liaisons. For more information about the conference, visit RWA National at their web site.

October, 1997 - RWA Region Two Conference to be held in Schaumburg, Illinois. More information will follow in the July/August Newsletter.


New On Literary Liaisons

Because this is the premiere issue of Literary Liaisons, everything is new! I hope you enjoy the site and I welcome any feedback.


Feature Article

Naming Your Characters by Michelle Hoppe

How many of us have belabored over finding just the right name for a character, only to have our critique group throw it back in our face with the claim, "It doesn't work for me." As much as we hate to admit a mistake, they may be right. After all, how many medieval knights were really named Billy? And how many Englishmen do you know named Aleksy?

Okay, so you promised your father to name the hero of your third book after him. You still can--but with a variation to the root--Alexander perhaps. Or is your hero Irish? Name him Alsandair. Is he Scottish? Name him Alastair. Three things to keep in mind when naming your characters are--the character's personality, his/her ethnicity, and the century in which they were born. 

Know Your Characters

The first step in naming your characters is to know them. Names make impressions. That's why you should think long and hard over them. You want your readers to remember your characters' names long after they've finished reading the book. But before you can name your characters, you must know them inside and out. Create a thorough outline on each one. Analyze what motivates them, what makes them who they are.

Take your hero. Is he strong? Powerful? Wealthy? Muscular? Would you convey that impression with a name like Robin Tibbles? It's a traditional English name, and your hero is English. Or would Garrick Maxwell Atwater III better suit him? The longer a man's name, the more likely he will be considered honest and accomplished. What about your heroine? Is she confident and adventurous? Or is she sedate and well-mannered? Would the name Clover Darling be better for the former or latter? How about Elizabeth Knight?

Also determine your characters' ethnic backgrounds. Nothing is more jarring to the reader than coming across an Irish hero named Pedro. So if it's vital to the story that the hero is Irish, find an Irish name for him. (Unless his mother is Spanish, perhaps, and named him Pedro because it irritated the father's family who disowned him when he married a Spaniard . . . but that's another story.) If you aren't familiar with names from a particular country, investigate. Baby name books often include ethnic origins. Or read books by contemporary authors from the country in question. In other words, go directly to the source. 

First Names

Once you know who your characters are, you can select an appropriate name for them. The way you name your characters falls into two categories--who they are, and where they come from. So you know your hero possesses all of the sterling qualities listed above. Will a name like Rickman suit him, then? Was your heroine born at night? Maybe her parents named her Starr because of it. Decide what qualifications your characters have that you want to come across most. Only you as the author know them well enough to do that.

Say the name aloud. Hard sounds like "t" or "s" will strengthen your character, while softer sounds like "d" or "b" will have a pleasanter ring. Think about the image you wish to convey. Ending the name on a hard sound--Kent or Brooke--would be stronger than Hugh or Ella.

If writing an historical, remember the setting/era of your novel. Ashley and Madison were once exclusively male names. Now, both are associated with females. If you aren't certain which names were popular when, visit your local library's genealogy section and read through old birth/death/marriage records. You will get a feel for the era by skimming through the files. 


Surnames didn't even exist before the 12th century. A man had his name and that's how he was known. By the 1100s, however, evidence of a second, or surname, exists. A man achieved that name in various ways--by the place of his birth, from his father (whether full or given name), by his occupation, or perhaps even by a nickname. Not everyone had surnames at once either. At first, they were taken or chosen by whomever wanted one. Some men even took combinations of the above, joining their estate name with their father's name possibly.

It wasn't until the 13th and 14th centuries that surnames became less elaborate, eventually evolving through the 17th century as the more recognizable form we know today.

English surnames derive chiefly from local or place names. Clifford, Oakman and Ellwood are all examples of this. Surnames of relationship could use either the father or mother's name as the root. The suffix -son was popular in the North of England, as in Johnson or Williamson. Surnames of occupation began with holders of the actual office, but eventually became hereditary. Steward, Dean and Sergeant were all occupations as well as surnames. The last type of surname origination is the nickname--a rare and seldom hereditary name. While some Barefoots, Prouds and Skippers have survived the centuries, few surnames bear this origin.

Can you borrow real surnames from local historical figures? Yes and no. If you are using that figure in your novel, you have to use the name. But be careful as to how you portray him/her. For a fictional character, yes, you can borrow real names. But rather than copy a name directly (Winston Churchill, for example, or the Duke of Wellington) change it a bit. You're more likely to avoid problems that way. And your character won't have to live up to another's reputation.

The same applies for titles in the case of English aristocracy. Rather than copy a title exactly, like the Earl of Spenser, create your own with an imaginary county/manor house/family name, etc.. But remember not to take away from the authenticity of the title. What are the odds of there being a Duke of Washington or a Marquess of Rouen in England?

Secondary Characters

Put as much thought into your secondary characters as you do you hero/heroine. Use the same rules here as above regarding country of origin and historical era, but names for secondary characters can be more colorful. Consider the eccentric Aunt Poppy and the non-descript Mr. Brown before saddling them with their names.

Above all, try not to confuse the reader. Don't have surnames of Johnson, Whitson, Fredrickson and Smithson just because they're all from Northern England. And while Mary, Maggie, Millie and Maisie are all cute names for siblings, unless each of the girls has a distinct personality trait, or they have very small parts in the book, the reader could get lost. Remember this when naming unrelated characters also. If the hero's name is Winston, don't have another character named Winthrop. And if the heroine's name is cross-gender (Jamie) don't give the hero a cross-gender (Chris) name also. You want your readers to enjoy your book, not labor over it.

Remember the Genre

Readers of a specific genre have certain expectations when they pick up a book. You, as the author, have to fulfill those expectations. Cactus Jack and One-eyed Bill might suit a Western, but would certainly be out of place in your romance. (Unless of course, it's set in the West and has some colorful secondary characters.) When choosing a name, think of what image that name conjures up. Rafe implies a very different type of personality than, say, Gimp. Just as Raven or Honey would for your heroine.

Finally, while you can spend hours searching for just the right name, don't be offended if a reader tells you she liked everything except the heroine's name. We all come to the book with past experiences, and those experiences may have included some not so pleasant memories of someone who bears the same name as a hero/heroine.




Editor's Note

Literary Liaisons was created with the romance reader and writer in mind. I wanted to have a place where information about the genre and the past are at your fingertips. That isn't to say that this site is exclusively for the historical reader or writer. We welcome anyone who has an interest in the past, with a view to the future. Although the main emphasis will be on the British Victorian era, the site is sure to cross genres, as is the nature of the reader and writer.

Just to let you know a little about me, I've been reading romances since High School, and began writing my own when I stayed home to raise my family. My first literary efforts were non-fiction, however, in the form of a school newspaper column. I dabbled in short stories then also, but just for fun. Never did I dream I'd be writing for publication one day! I won awards for my essays in school, and was a National Scholar. I've been writing novels for the last six years, and have finished three books and started a fourth. All are British Historicals set in the Victorian era.

My publishing credits include articles in the 1996/1997 and 1997/1998 Wedding Pages of Chicago Magazine, and articles in my local chapter's newsletter. I have placed or won in the following contests: 1992 River City Showdown Contest, the 1993 North Texas RWA Great Expectations Contest and the 1994 Monterey Bay Chapter Silver Heart Contest. Most recently, I learned I am a finalist in the 1997 Golden Heart Contest in the Long Historical category.

I am a member of the National Romance Writers of America, the Chicago-North chapter of RWA, and the American Health Information Management Association. I served as Chicago-North librarian for three years, and am now their webmaster. The Chicago-North Home Page will soon be here on Literary Liaisons.

Research is my passion, which is what spawned the idea for this site. I hope I can pass on just a little of what I have learned over the years. So browse, enjoy, learn and by all means, comment! The site can only be enriched by your feedback. My e-mail address is


FAQ Column

One question I get asked frequently is, when was the Victorian era? Technically, Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901. But it wasn't until about 1850 that her subjects began referring to themselves as "Victorians." No other monarch had ever been so honored, not even Queen Elizabeth I. The Americans soon adopted the phraseology, always eager to imitate British aristocracy. While Victorian Americans did not exactly parallel British behavior and mannerisms, allowing for many more freedoms, Americans did copy many of Britain's fashions, habits and interior decorating tastes.


Historical Calendar of Events


Victoria becomes Queen of Great Britain upon the death of William IV--June 20th

Benjamin Disraeli delivers his maiden speech in the House of Commons

Charles Dickens publishes early installments of Oliver Twist, a novel about Britain's urban poor

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice-told Tales" becomes a best seller

Founding of the University of Athens in Greece

Founding of the University of Louisville in Kentucky

Mount Holyoke Female Seminary opens November 8th at South Hadley, Massachusetts--the first U.S. college for women

The world's first kindergarten opens at Blankenburg, Thuringia

Horace Mann begins educational reforms in Massachusetts

Sir James Murray, Scottish philologist and editor of the Oxford English Dictionary is born

John Constable, English landscape painter, dies

Wheatstone and W.F. Cooke patent electric telegraph in England

Samuel Morse exhibits his electric telegraph at the College of the City of New York

Pitman shorthand system devised by Englishman Isaac Pitman

London completes the Thames embankment

London's Euston Station opens--July 20

The Bayswater hippodrome opens in England--the world's first steeplechase race course--June 3rd

England introduces official birth registration

Mrs. Fitzherbert, morganatic wife of King George IV, dies

France outlaws baccarat--it isn't legalized again until 1907

Michigan becomes a state of the U.S.--January 26th

The Baltimore Sun begins publication--May 17

Gag Law, aimed at suppressing debate on slavery, passed by U.S. Congress

Financial and economic panic in America due to inflated land values, wildcat banking and paper speculation--one third of all New Yorkers who subside by manual labor are unemployed

The Texas Rangers lawmen have their beginnings at Waco

First Canadian Railroad is built

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