Sunday, August 5, 2012

Name Confusion

Many years ago, I noticed that if a book had too many characters, I had trouble keeping track of them. If some of those characters had fairly similar names, I had no hope of keeping them apart in my head. I devised a method of avoiding that problem in my own stories.
Using that method has become so much a part of my process that I really didn’t pause to think about it any more. Until recently, when I started looking through papers I inherited from my mother about the family tree.
Have you ever looked through your family tree? I have been looking at one tree, the one that started with Jacob, born in 1800, and eventually resulted in me and my siblings, on my mother’s side. Families were pretty big back then, and apparently, the supply of names was limited. Take a look:
Jacob’s children included an Elizabeth, a Mary, a Robert, a Joseph, a John and a Charles. Yes, there were others, but I don’t have any bones with them.
Elizabeth and Mary both married a John, and their children (together) included an Elizabeth, a Mary, a Robert, a Joseph and 2 Johns. Two of Jacob’s sons married an Elizabeth, and both of those Elizabeths were the same age, and I don’t have a maiden name for either of them. So on that tree, I have 2 women designated as ‘Elizabeth ?, born 1835’. The children of these marriages include Mary, Elizabeth, Eliza, 2 Johns, Robert, Joseph, and Charles.
See what I mean about the supply of names being limited? 3 generations, and I am up to my neck in the same names, over and over again. Talk about confusion!
If I ever create a family tree for a book or series that I’m planning, … On the other hand, families do sometimes have a name or two that they pass down through the generations. My father’s name was Melvin; one of his brothers was Elvin. Not exactly the same, but close. My first husband had his grand-father’s name as his middle name; our son also had his grand-father’s name as his middle name. Not the same name, but follows a pattern.
Would my made-up family have such a pattern they follow, or a name they hand down through the generations? Maybe so. If they do, I’ll assign all the Johns and Marys nicknames that EVERYbody uses, just to avoid any name confusion.