We had a new addition to the family the other day, and something happened that made me consider the topic of people's names and what we expect from them. When I heard the name given to the new arrival, for some reason I immediately pictured him in 40 or so years' time as a professor, probably of archaeology. His mother, on the other hand, told me she saw him more as a sportsman. Apart from the fact that she was probably joking because she knows how much many other members of the family excel at sports, i.e. not very much, this started a train of thought that led to various different destinations.
|My grandmother (top left) and her birth family|
As a family history researcher I find people's names very interesting, especially their first names. In many Scottish families there was quite a structured naming pattern in place, perhaps for centuries. I think I was one of the first children in our family not to be named after some ancestor or other. But it used to be less random than that sounds, because in families that followed this pattern the first daughter born to a couple was named after the mother's mother, the second after the father's mother and the third after the mother herself. There seem to have been optional extra rules about when to name a child after their grandmother or aunt. Something similar happened with sons - the first son after the father's father etc. In late Victorian times with the large families many people had, they sometimes had to go back to great-grandparents for names, and two of the youngest of my grandmother's ten siblings were actually named May and George, I think after members of the royal family.
My mother, the second daughter in her family, was very lucky not to have received 'Montgomery' as a first name because it had been my grandfather's mother's name. After a family argument it was apparently agreed that this was a ridiculous name for a girl and she was given another family name, Christina, instead, with Montgomery as a middle name. When my late brother and I started doing family history research we found the first name Montgomery very useful because it was confined, as far as we could establish, to girls from a large inter-connected group of mining families from Fife, and it helped us to place people in this group. The earliest occurrence we could find was in 1764, when a coal miner's daughter was given this name, possibly after a Seven Years War hero.
My great-grandmother's full name was Montgomery Crystal, and my brother once set up a web page for her as a joke, depicting her as a 1950s movie star. Sadly I think her life was a lot less glamorous than that.
In fact the plot for one of these mysteries, 'Reunited in Death', was also inspired by something that really happened in my family (but without the murders).
As well as raiding my family history for names and ideas, I do get them from other sources on occasion. I have one exotic character called Amaryllis, a retired spy, and some younger people have started to make an appearance - Kyle, Zak, Lee, Tiffany, Ashley. These young people are generally quite modern and forward-looking, whereas Harriet, a young woman with a more traditional name, tends to be rather prone to panic under the stress of modern life. I hadn't actually realised I had used names to signal character in quite such an obvious way until writing it down just now.
In a way I find it rather sad that names have become so much less traditional and more subject to fashionable trends, and in another way it's probably a good sign that is symbolic of changing times and of people not wanting to weigh their children down with expectations that they will take after long-dead relatives.
Incidentally, I still miss the American secret agent who appeared in some of my earlier books, Pearson MacPherson. His name always made me smile, and indeed the fictional character was a bit of an idiot.