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Real World Names


toujours gai, archie
On another forum a question of names came up; specifically, someone wondered what would be a good female name in Great Britain in the 1980s. The responses were a marvel of specificity. They came from different people, all in UK, so I accept that this level of localization is natural. It was striking to me as an American. Anyway, it was this list if in north England, a different list in Scotland, another for south England, another for early 1980s, variations by class.

The whole conversation made me think through the variations in the U.S. But--and the point of this post--it also made me wonder this:

What sort of naming variations might one find in your country (if you are in a non-English speaking country). Class? Region (basically dialectical variations)? Religion? Other? I'm asking out of curiosity, but also as a way of exploring how to have naming variations in a fantasy setting.

One that I discovered as a medievalist is that the Reformation marks a sea change in naming. After Luther we see a huge spike in New Testament names and especially the names of the Apostles. That spike persisted for *centuries*. As a writer of (medieval) historical fiction, one thing I do almost instinctively is stay way from Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul, and their variants. Those names did get used in earlier times, but nothing like they were in use after the early 16thc.

Mad Swede

(Please note that I'm using Swedish spellings here.)

Well, at least in the Nordic countries people have always had a first name. Before Christianity came to Scandinavia it was usual that people only had one name. Examples of such names are Harald, Björn, Torsten, Erik, Ingrid, Gunhild and Freja. People with the same first name would often have different "tillnamn", that is second names, so that you could tell them apart.

These second names were often related to their appearance or something they had done. One well known historial example would be Olof Skötkonung, king of Sweden 995-1022, who was the first Swedish ruler to mint his own coins (hence his second name). Another would be Harald Blåtand, king of Denmark c948-986, who got his second name from the colour of one of his teeth. Or maybe Sven Tveskägg, king of Denmark 986-995, named for his beard.

But second names could also be about whose child you were. For example, a girl might be named Ingrid Eriksdotter, and a boy might be named Torsten Eriksson. These sorts of second names were common in rural Sweden until the late 1800s.

Once Christendom came to Scandinavia new first names started to become common. These names are Scandinavicised versions of Biblical names and saints names, for example Johan, Anders, Göran, Margareta, Karin and Kerstin.

Fixed surnames fist appear in Sweden amongst the nobility as a result of a royal decree in 1628. Such surnames are usually related to the appearance of the family's coat of arms, for example Gyllensvärd (meaning a golden sword). Priests of this period would usually have latinised versions of their place of birth as their second name, for example Cuprimontanus for a priest who came from Kopparberg. People living in towns, particularly merchants and tradesmen, also started to take fixes surnames during the 1600s. These were an attempt to copy the nobility, and as such often ended in things like ström, man, dal or berg. The first part of the surname was usually related to something natural (like a flower, to make Blomberg) or the place of birth (as in Lundsman). In the military surnames were used to separate people with the same first name and were almost always related to some characteristic of the person concerned. Examples inlude surnames like Rask (meaning quick or bright), Skotte (someone from Skottelund) and Ask. Surnames became fixed for everyone in Sweden in 1901.

First names have also evolved in Sweden over the years, usually as a result of trade and communications with other countries. Examples include Therese and Gabrielle (introduced from France in the 1700s), Greta, Albrekt, Hedvig and Lennart (from Germany in the 1500s).

The spelling of names varies in Sweden, usually with dialect. In some areas double barrelled first names are common (for example, Lars-Erik).


While I do tend to try and make regional sounding names in my fiction (and I have not been above looking up baby names and morphing them to come up with some), I dont like using real world names at all in my fictional world, which make me make up a lot of words.

I do enjoy seeing the many different forms of names, almost as a way of seeing how the influence of one culture spread into the other.

I will also say, it is my observation that names tend to become trendy. There were not a lot of Brittany's and Tabitha's when I went to school but there were a lot when my kids did.

A lot of names seem to get misspelled, and that tends to become trendy too. I speculate that maybe some of the older parents did not know how to spell it, and so it morphed.

For myself, I named my daughter, and used what I thought was a biblical spelling, only to find out I was wrong :(. I went for an AEL ending when it was just EL. The end result is she cannot find things like keychains and jewelry that has her named spelled right ;) cest le vie


toujours gai, archie
Mad Swede, that accords with what I know about naming practices on the Continent and in England. Most people in most of the Germanic countries had just the one name. Why would anyone need another? Romans, of course, went with two or three, or even four. I wonder now if Latinate countries like Italy or Spain followed that Roman convention on into the Middle Ages.

But up north, it was just the one, with modifiers for clarity if there happened to be two Matildas in the same village. One significant change in naming happened when tax rolls began to be kept (and, later, muster rolls). Having lists with hundreds of Tom or Jean entries wasn't really very helpful. It's not really clear whether the taxman began assigning second names or if they simply insisted to the local Tom that he became Tom Butcher or whatever. I'm sure this shift came to towns earlier than to villages.

There were plenty of other factors in play as well. I do try to keep some of those in mind when coming up with names within Altearth. Historical names are fine, but the work mainly for humans. Elves aren't going to show up in Brittany with Breton names. They might start adopting and adapting later, but there has to be some clear elvish-type names (Tolkien was a master at this).

Now I type this out loud, I'm realizing I just might have one or more peoples in Altearth go with compound names or multiple names from the get go, as one way of distinguishing for the reader.


Myth Weaver
Used to be (and maybe still is) the case that some countries had an 'approved list' of names for newborns. This would come up occasionally on other sites.

That said, the bulk of the fictional names I use come from the AD&D 'Historical Earth' series, with region specific baby name generator sites coming in second. About half the names are fairly unique. Others, in modified form, are in widespread usage. Multipart names are kind of limited with the Romans being predominant. (At least in the sources I use). However, there are multiple examples of the 'second' or 'last' name being indicative of a profession (Carpenter, Smith) or of some personal trait (Lucky, Young)


Huh. This really doesn't tend to come up in my writing because I tend to write about the lower classes with no real admixture with those above them societally speaking. I mean upper class folk do exist in my worlds, and I may mention them in passing, but they tend to be mentioned more by title than by name. And my stories tend to not involve grand scale political shenanigans that need nobility.

I do however use a real mix of earth names in most of my fantasy short stories. However, if I'm wanting to spice things up I look for obscure names in other languages than English.