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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Literary names for the Regency Heroine.

Literary names for your Regency Heroine

I’ve mentioned a few literary names before, but I thought I’d actually get around to a reasonably comprehensive list, with dates they are first used, since a lot of the names saddled on literary heroines grew out of the doubtless fevered brows of their creators.  After all, some of the names the writers of the late 18th and early 19th century came up with were quite as awful as modern idiocies like Chelsea, Courtney, Kasey, Janelle, Kendra. Louetta and other cruelties.
We know that Jane Austen read Richardson, most of whose characters have quite everyday names,  Charlotte Smith and Fanny Burney, and chose to name all her heroines with names from the top 50 names of the period; but sometimes there is a call for more unusual names, or for names a heroine would have liked to have been called [readers of Anne of Green Gables will recall that Anne longed to have midnight dark hair and be named Susquehannah]. And sometimes unusual names may be a literary device to show the foolishness of a parent [such as the five girls named after characters in Mrs. Williams' poems whom I feature in 'Jane and the Bow Street Runner', or a parent of scholarly but not practical turn of mind like the father of Ophelia Rackham in 'Ophelia's Opportunity' [coming soon].  A memorable name can be invaluable; Georgette Heyer's 'Frederica', 'Venetia', 'Arabella' and 'The Grand Sophy' are unforgettable books.   None of the names were in common use but none of them could be said to be too out of the ordinary, with the possible exception of Venetia.   
Venetia is probably a latinised version of the name Gwynneth, and was then name of notorious 17th century beauty, Venetia Stanley. Her middle name, incidentally, was Anastasia.  In her lover's memoirs, she too has a made up pseudonym: Stelliana.  This, being shocking, is not an appropriate name to be given to any heroine!

Cleone 1667
Herminone 1667

Jonathon Swift
Vanessa 1713

Samuel Richardson:
Pamela 1740 AMENDED: also used by Sir Philip Sidney in Arcadia end 16th century
Clarissa 1747-8 [Clarissa was an extant name, but may have revived in popularity]

Helena Maria Williams
Mrs. Williams’ sisters were called Cecilia and Persis

Mary Wollstancraft: not for literary heroines but because her sister was called Everina which is fanciful enough to include here.

Charlotte Smith
Emmeline 1788
Adelina 1788 [from Emmeline]
Ethelinde 1789
Celestina 1791

The Burney sisters were particularly active in naming heroines.

Fanny Burney
Evelina 1778
Cecilia 1782 [certainly an old name but again may have gained popularity]
Honoria [from 'Cecilia' and also an extant name]
Elgiva 1790
Elberta 1788-91
Camilla 1796

Sarah Burney
Clarentine/Clarentina 1798
Geraldine 1808 [also probably extant but more likely to be used in Scotland]
Adela 1810 [a name more used on the continent.]

Caroline Burney [probably no relative and using a pseudonym to cash in on the popularity of Fanny and Sarah]
Seraphina 1809
Lindamira 1810

Walter Scott
Rosabelle 1805
Rowena 1820 [an invented version of Reinwen or Rhonwen which was used in the late Middle Ages: also used in Ireland's hoax 'lost Shakespeare play' 'Vortigern and Rowena' 1796]

Anna Louise Germaine de Stael
Delphine 1802
Corinne 1807

Miss Owenson
Ida 1809 [an old name but popularised]

Mrs. Sykes
Margiana 1808

For older literary names:
Here is a partial list of the more exotic female names used in songs and poetry on broadsheets of the 17th century:





  1. Thank you for another very useful post, Sarah! Some of the fanciful names in 18th and 19th century novels remind me of the lines in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey:
    “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”
    Or when Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland that he has read hundreds and hundreds of novels, saying, “Do not imagine that you can cope with me in a knowledge of Julias and Louisas.”
    It makes one feel that overly romantical names for heroines (though Julia and Belinda do not seem so very out of the ordinary to me) where practically de rigueur in Romances and Gothics.

  2. It certainly seems so! Belinda was coined as a name, but Julia had antiquity behind it. I used Julia as a name for a rather bumptious maidservant in 'Jane and the Hidden Hoard' [I'm afraid she comes to a rather sticky end] because it was pretentious. And I leave it to the reader to wonder if she had been christened Joan... neither of them falls into the top 50 names, and as 8 out of 10 children were named out of the top 10 names, it rather brings it home that unusual names were very unusual indeed. And it is nice to have a heroine who is easily identified. I'm toying with having a heroine identify herself by a pseudonym, drawn from such a source and having the hero remark cynically that she is remarkably well grown for someone who cannot be older than 5 years old since then name appeared...
    Thanks for commenting, hope it was fun. I've got a list of names from Heyer somewhere on the blog, with their histories...

  3. You're welcome! I should probably do their male counterparts... I have been compiling a list of names outside the top 50 as used by officers on the Peninsula...

    1. Oh, I would love to see that!

  4. and whether I have to recompile it or whether it can be recovered from the most recent data disaster remains to be seen... i may recompile it anyway

  5. Great list!

    I believe Anne Shirley's preferred name was Cordelia. I am not sure that Susquehannah is from Anne - it makes me think of What Katy Did; I may have to go and read both to find out :)

  6. Thanks, Liz!
    I do recall Cordelia [Shakespeare's mangling of a Welsh border name, Cordula] but I am certain Susquehannah was mentioned as a dream name somewhere in the series... I need to re-read the lot. maybe it was one of the children Anne taught...
    I tried to insist on being called Iain when I was young, which is what I'd have been called if I'd been a boy, but nobody took me seriously either.

  7. Rereading Anne is never a bad thing :)

  8. Lol, no!
    I never did manage to track down the etymology and development of Marilla as a name, I can only suppose it's one of these transatlantic made-up names, though I've seen suggestions it may be a varient of Muriel [which is amusing as Marilla castigates the name Diana as heathenish; if her name is a variant of Muriel, it's a good pagan Irish name].