Naming a Hero

A reader emailed to ask  how I go about naming my characters. Since I write historical novels that typically include real people as secondary characters, some names are chosen for me. But the main characters are always fictional, and I get to name them whatever I choose.

I start by reading old newspapers, diaries, and books of the period and making notes on names. Because women’s names especially were often the same few–Elizabeth, Sarah, Anne, and Mary–I look for something more unusual that  is still true to the period. It wouldn’t do to have  an 1850’s woman named Heather or Tiffany.  Thus the heroines in my first historical series were named Ada, Caroline, and Sophie. The heroine in Carolina Gold is called Charlotte Fraser. Her love interest is a doctor called Nicholas Betancourt.

Fraser is an old South Carolina name so it was perfect for a  heroine from  the beautiful Lowcountry.  For years I loved the name Nick Betancourt and was waiting for  the perfect story for him. Years ago I actually started a contemporary novel featuring a hero with that name. But I never finished it. So when I started writing Carolina Gold, I dusted it off again. Here is where things get really spooky:  One of the research books  I ordered was a history of Pawley’s Island, where much of Carolina Gold takes place. Opened it up and there was a list of PI families including Betancourt. Cue the music from the Twilight Zone. I love it when that happens!

Next up is a young Georgian named Celia whose story involves two families, the Brownings and the Mackays. I chose Browning  to honor my beloved pastor from my college days. Browning Ware was an extraordinarily gifted pastor, teacher, and author. He passed away several years ago. The Mackays were a prominent Savannah merchant family. Robert and Eliza McQueen Mackay had several sons and two daughters, Mary Anne and Elizabeth Anne  (see what I mean?). Mary Anne married Benjamin Edward Stiles and Elizabeth Anne married William Henry Stiles ( often called W.H).  Their daughter Mary married Andrew Low, the second richest man in Savannah. The Stiles appear in my novel as friends of the Brownings.

When it came time to name my hero, I turned to one of my old family names, Sutton. I liked the way it paired with his last name, Mackay. Although I haven’t been able to trace the exact connection, I do know that the name Sutton goes  back to  11th century England. The name comes from two Anglo Saxon words, sudh which means “south” and  tun meaning “town”. So “Sudhtun” meant a family of South town. And since this novel is set in a Southern town, Sutton was the perfect name for him.

Sutton Mackay is everything a woman wants in a hero–smart, tender, courageous, and of course, easy on the eyes, too. The night he saw 12 year old Celia Browning stuck in a tree, it was love at first sight. The novel opens eleven years later with Sutton on his way home from Jamaica to propose to Celia.

I hope you will enjoy their story, out in 2014. Meantime, Charlotte’s story, and Nicholas Betancourt’s —Carolina Gold, will be out this fall.

Happy reading!