Yesterday afternoon I had another of those pesky panic attacks, so I dived into my (very battered) 1833 copy of Debrett’s Peerage. I found a pressed clover, various notes in ink (reminded me of Sir Walter Elliott editing his family’s entry in the baronetage in Austen’s Persuasion), and a very good reason why upper-class men addressed one another by their last names or titles: they were all called John, Henry, Edward, John Henry, Henry Edward, George, Robert, George Augustus, George Edward, William, John William, John Edward William, James, James Edward, George John, Thomas, Thomas George, Richard, John Richard, Thomas William, etc. If you had walked into White’s and called “John”, at least ten men would have turned their heads. Not very useful.
There are a few variations to these names as some families used the mother’s maiden name as their heir’s first name. Thus Austen’s Mr. Darcy is called Fitzwilliam Darcy (we also learn that his cousin is Colonel Fitzwilliam, so Fitzwilliam is obviously the family name of the Earl of —, Darcy’s uncle). But judging from my copy of Debrett’s, it would appear the practice wasn’t that widespread.
You can also find some really fanciful names, like Sir Launcelot Lake (I kid you not). Incidentally, Sir Launcelot named his son after his wife’s family title: she was the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, so the son was called Warwick Lake. His son was Launcelot-Charles Lake, then followed a few Gerards, then finally Francis-Gerard Lake, the present [i.e. in 1833] Viscount Lake. (He is also Baron Lake.)
Even though I found quite a few George Augustus Fredericks listed in Debrett’s, I decided to re-name the hero of the brandnew novel because I realised that quite a few people I know have young sons called Frederick. So a romance hero called Frederick would have been … eh … weird.
I thought about replacing Frederick with Fenton, his mother’s family name, until I realised that it would have been his elder brother who would have been given that name.
So, scratch Fenton.
In the end, Griff became a mere George Augustus. I daresay the loss of a Christian name won’t bother him too much given his overall problems. (Note to self: Give all your heroes LOTS of problems so they won’t be bothered when you rename them.)
His very large cousin, by contrast, got the Fenton name: he is George Fenton Cole.
His other cousin is Edward Fenton, Baron Anson (or, Ed the Snake). (Though you won’t see much of Ed the Snake in Book No. 1)
As you can see, naming one’s characters is a tricky business, especially when you want to stay true to the time your story is set in. 🙂