Here are the most popular (hence most problematic) names amongst the more prominent characters* in Nevill:
5 Alices; 8 Annes; 3 Edmunds; 5 Edwards; 3 Eleanors; 3 Elizabeths; 5 Georges; 6 Henrys; 4 Isobels; 10 Johns; 3 Margarets; 9 Richards; 10 Thomases; 5 Williams.
So, what to do with them?
There are three strategies that I’m using: diminutives, titles and context.
One solution is to use diminutives: Dickon for Gloucester, Nan for an Anne, Ned for Edward IV, Bess for one of the Elizabeths, Meg for a Margaret etc. I’ve seen all these used and intend to use some myself, though I’m not going to tie myself in knots trying to come up with something unique for everyone. There is one novel I read recently (about which I have little positive to say), where the author made a valiant attempt to differentiate all the same-name characters. As there weren’t quite as many as mine, it was probably successful for many readers. I couldn’t quite come at Isobel Nevill being called Bella, however. It was this example more than anything else that made me think long and hard about the whole issue of names.
Elizabeth of York (the older, Richard and Cecily’s daughter) I’m calling Bess as it seems to suit her; her sister Margaret is Meg. That (with a couple of exceptions) is about the extent of the diminutives, apart from Tom, Will and the like.
Apart from Dickon (which I haven’t decided to use yet), I’m leaving the major Richards alone, referring to them by their titles, except when someone’s talking to them or thinking about them. Hopefully the context will keep them sorted. (I’ve thought very long and hard about this, about why I don’t want to follow at least one example and call York Dick. I think the answer lies in the fact that my son’s name is Richard (which should really surprise no-one) and he has very emphatically decided that he’s not a Rick, not a Richie or a Dick – he’s Richard and that’s that.) There could occasionally be some confusion when these three are talking together – I’ll just need to be vigilant. (Such as when Salisbury says, “Richard and I are to manage with a hundred and sixty” it should be clear that he’s talking to York about Warwick.)
Jumping between Annes isn’t such a problem in the early stages of the story, as there are only two prominent ones – the countess of Warwick and the duchess of Exeter. Later on, with the addition of Anne Nevill, it gets more difficult. I don’t like seeing the countess of Warwick called Nan – why I don’t know. I don’t object to the name per se, it just doesn’t seem right to me for her. Nor is it right for the duchess of Exeter or Anne Nevill. In the end, I’ve decided to let context and title (where applicable) do the job, ie if the Anne in question is wandering around Warwick Castle, she’s more than likely to be Anne Beauchamp; I’ll use the duchess of Exeter’s title somewhere early in a section including her so that people know who I’m talking about. I have no idea if she was ever called this, but as Anne Nevill spent a lot of her childhood in Calais, I am toying with the idea of having someone dub her Anouk, a Norman diminutive of Anne. This could do double duty of allowing Isobel Nevill to have in her armoury a nice little dig at Anne as they grow older. It isn’t something that can carry her beyond childhood, so again context will have to take a lot of the burden. Later on, Anne Fitzhugh will start to become more prominent, and I’ll have to deal with her as well.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been guided by the signatures of two of the Nevill sisters, Eleanor and Katherine, who signed themselves Alianor and Katheryn respectively. Margaret Nevill (countess of Oxford) spelled her name with two t’s, but that might be mistaken for a typo, so I’m leaving her in the modern spelling. For Margaret of Anjou there is, of course, the option of calling her Marguerite, which I considered for a while. I decided in the end that this emphasises her Frenchness too much, which is not my intention. She is queen of England and should therefore have an English name.
A lot of the men I can differentiate by using their titles or last names (eg, Northumberland for Henry Percy, and Fitzhugh for Henry Fitzhugh.) This could cause me some difficulties later, when lord Henry Fitzhugh is succeeded by his son, Richard – whatever I call him, there’s going to be a potential clash. I could use Harry, I suppose, but that is too closely associated with the king. That the Fitzhughs called their four older sons after Alice’s brothers and the youngest Edward might demonstrate their closeness to family (or reflect on who their godfathers were), but it is of no help to me whatsoever! If they’d had a sixth son, he would probably have been name for his father, thus compounding the problem even more.
There are four Isobels – two Nevills, Ingoldisthorpe and Bourchier (York’s sister). I’ve decided on Isabel for the viscountess and Isabelle for John Nevill’s daughter, but the other two are definitely Isobel (as is one of my cats). Again, context will have to do.
The Thomases are by far my biggest headache, mainly because three of them have the same last name – Nevill. One is the Bastard of Fauconberg, another the Bastard of Salisbury and, of course, there’s the legitimate one. I’ve got over this partly by calling the Bastard of Salisbury Tam. Fauconberg I haven’t sorted out yet. It can’t be assumed that the three were called slightly different names by their family; the two Paston Johns were both addressed and signed their names the same. They knew who they were talking to and about, so it must be assumed that the Nevill Thomases managed it as well. The last Thomas to appear is St Leger and by the time he comes on the scene, most of the others are dead and gone. Thomas Stanley will simply be Stanley. In the early part of the book, both father and son are at least referenced, so I’ll have to make it clear, once he marries Alianor Nevill, that the Stanley I’m talking about is the younger one. And then, in the beginning at least, there’s Thomas Percy (but perhaps the least said about him the better!)
The Alices are another headache. Alice Chaucer’s not so bad, as I can call her by her title. The main problem with the Alices is that three of them are in one family – Alice Montacute, Alice Fitzhugh and her oldest daughter. The countess of Salisbury is definitely Alice. I’m calling Alice Fitzhugh Ailie, which is a less well known diminutive and not as modern sounding as the more common Ally. I could call her Alison, which is a proper Yorkshire diminutive, but it is a separate name nowadays and so the connection with Alice is lost. For the baby, I’m using Lissa for the moment, but I’m not entirely happy with it. Fauconberg’s daughter Alice Conyers will rear her head sooner or later, so I’ll have another one to worry about.
The third of the potential headaches are the Edwards. For a time, and for some people maybe most of the time, Edward IV can be Ned. That seems to be fairly well accepted practice. As Edward of Lancaster is the only one connected with his family, and as he spends most of his life in exile, Edward is fine for him. The two younger princes, Edward V and Gloucester’s son, I will have to give some more thought to, except I don’t believe they co-exist in the same place for any length of time, so it may turn out to be not a problem at all. If we’re in London, Edward is Edward IV’s son; if we’re at Middleham, he’s Gloucester’s. That leaves only Edward Fitzhugh, and he’s in the I’m not thinking about him much at the moment category.
At the moment, most of the Johns can be called by their titles, but there are two who aren’t (John Nevill and John de la Pole) and for the most part they can be differentiated by context. Later, I can call John Nevill by his title, Montagu. It will be more difficult when the Suffolk’s son John and John of Gloucester make their appearances. But I will think about that later. John Say is always John Say and John Conyers is always John Conyers, unless they’re being addressed. I don’t know why this should be, but it is.
The Georges could also be a problem. I’ve seen young George Nevill (John’s son) being called Georgie, but as he would have spent a good deal of his young life in the far north, I think Geordie is a better choice, at least for immediate family. As to Clarence and the Archbishop – context will have to do until they become Clarence and the Archbishop. Lord Strange might just have to be called by his title.
The Williams will probably be fine as they can either be called by their last names (ie Hastings, Catesby) or their titles (Fauconberg). William lord Harrington is really only there for the blink of an eye (poor kid), so I’m just calling him Will. William Stanley will be William Stanley.
There are some people I’ve left out of the tally, partly because they are not so prominent and can be dealt with as and when needed, or they aren’t even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes when the story starts, so I’ve not taken them into account yet at all. Richard Wydeville (the elder) will probably be called by his title – but then I’ll need to make it clear when his son succeeds him just who lord Rivers is now. I haven’t given much thought to either Richard or Thomas Grey just yet.
Thank heavens for Cecily Nevill, Gervase Clifton, Marmaduke Constable, Jaquetta Wydeville, Maud Stanhope, Anthony Wydeville, Margery Fitzhugh, Robert Holland and Francis Lovell!
*This makes it sound as though I have a cast of thousands, which of course I do, only many of them are short-term problems (such as Egremont and young lord Harrington). I still have to think about them, though, because it sounds a little odd to my ears for, say, Thomas and John Nevill to refer to their bothersome cousin by his title all the time. What doesn’t help at all is that Egremont is handfast with his brother Richard Percy, who doesn’t have a title! v frustrating