How to avoid C. Spray – getting your names right.

My daughter asked me recently how I came up with the names for the characters in my books. Choosing them is actually something I really enjoy and I have several ways of doing it. Sometimes I just have it to hand and that’s true of Stag in “New Beginnings on Vancouver Island”.    My hero was always going to be Stag and that was that. He’s the one I’ve found the easiest to name.

I’m conscious that since I write about the mid 19th Century the names have to fit the period. So there are no Chardonnays or Brooklyns. (Okay there may have been some, but I’m sure my readers would see the use of such names as way out of line.) Bring on the Josephs, the Williams, the Marthas and the Elizabeths. I find the first names relatively easy, but the surnames are a different matter. Firstly they have to go with the Christian name so no funny initial links which is where my example of C. Spray comes in. Secondly they have to be correct regionally.

To keep myself on the straight and narrow I use directories like the one in the picture above. This marries names wth occupations and addresses which is really helpful. For example Mrs Smallwood is a clogger at 16 Market Place, Whitehaven. No first names here apart from the auctioneers. I wonder what singles them out? This Tradesmen’s and Shopkeepers’ Directory is dated 1883 which is twenty years after my books, but close enough.

Transcript of the 1851 census for Whitehaven – part 4

The Cumbrian Family History Society’s transcript for the 1851 census ( in four volumes of which I have three ) is a gold mine since “New Beginnings…” is set in 1854 and my current WIP “The Shackletons of Whitehaven” in 1860. Joy of joy with this one as it not only has an index of the full names for every address, but also the ages and occupations. Plenty to choose from and I get a good idea of the social make up of the streets.

Index of names from 1851 census
Whitehaven census 1851 names, addresses and occupations.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way with naming is if you change a name half way through your novel you have to triple check (and again) that you’ve changed it all the way through. Have I been caught out that way? I’ll leave that hanging there for now… (btw I did use Word’s Replace function)

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