Tag Archives: genealogy

A Virtual Irish Vacation.

Discover the Irish Diaspora:

Grehan, I. (1997). The dictionary of Irish family names. Lantham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers.

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A Virtual Irish Vacation.

Discover Irish Origins:

Sykes, B. (2006). Saxons, Vikings, and Celts. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Inspiration for Authors: Ancestral Names.

A Character Name Database at Your Fingertips.

There are between 7,000 and 8,000 names in my genealogical database (not really very many), most of which are French, and some of which are on lines going back 14 generations (the French are prodigious genealogists). When I told the computer to extract all of my direct ancestors on the French side, it came up with 353 people.

I marked all the unique given names (most are forenames; a few are second names), and sorted them into the following table:

A partial list of my ancestors. (I was feeling decorative, so I embellished them by using French Script font).

On this list, there are more than 100 possible names for characters in a historical novel set in France any time between 1500 and 1930.

When I was writing Irish Firebrands, my sister asked me, “Why Ireland? Why don’t you write about France?” (Our family has no direct connection with Ireland; it was simply where the Muse had told me to go, but I did use a few forenames derived from my family for secondary characters.) My current works-in-progress include a prelude novel and a sequel to Irish Firebrands, but along with focusing on my French ancestry for this blog post, the Muse has slipped into the back of my head an idea for that French novel my sister suggested.

People in every culture have been recording their ancestry for many centuries. Asian clan books follow formats adapted to their languages, but most Western-culture genealogies are organized according to some variation of the Ahnentafel.


The first Ahnentafel, printed in 1590.

If you don’t have access to your own ancestral names, you can look elsewhere for character name inspiration. Persons who compile their genealogies often place copies of them in family history libraries; the largest is in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it has branches (called Family History Centers) around the world. The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has the second largest genealogy collection and research facility, and smaller public libraries in that state also maintain “Indiana Rooms,” where local library patrons can deposit their published family records and conduct research. The US Social Security Administration maintains a database of names sorted according to their popularity by year or decade in the states and territories. “Baby name” lists abound on the internet.

Wherever you look for character names, just be sure that the ones you choose correspond with the time and location in which your novel is set. Anachronistic or culturally inappropriate character names can destroy a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

But if your own genealogy has been compiled, do consider taking a walk with your ancestors. Their names may to guide you to find the characters and story for your next novel.


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