MuseTracks Guest – Blythe Gifford – On the naming of characters – GIVEAWAY!

MuseTracks is delighted to welcome back our special guest Blythe Gifford! And she’s brought along a gift! Take it away, Blythe.

Happy New Year!

Mine kicks off with the release of CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, second book of The Brunson Clan trilogy.  I call this one the Cinderella story, in which Bessie Brunson, youngest sibling and only sister, goes to court.  She is at the mercy of a man who is definitely NOT Prince Charming.  In fact, Thomas Carwell may have betrayed her family, something Bessie is determined to prove along the journey.

We writers are often asked about how we select character names and nowhere was a name more important than on the Scottish Borders during the early Tudor era.  Family was more important than king or country.  As Alistair Moffat wrote in THE REIVERS, “Names were what made the Border Reivers who they were – in all important senses.”

Many of those Border names are still with us:  Armstrong, as in Neil, first man to walk on the moon.  Nixon and Johns(t)on, as in United States Presidents.  Maxwells, Scotts, Kerrs, Elliots…these families and others rode the Borders and we have historical accounts of each.

That meant I did not want to use one of the real Border Clan names for my family.  I was inspired by them, but my tale is not historical truth.  A real name would confuse the reader.  But how to choose a name that would sound authentic without being so?

For my Brunson clan, I went back even farther in Borders history.  Centuries before my story, Vikings invaded the land.  One of them, a brown-eyed man, was the founder of the clan.  “Brun” is Old English for “brown,” so the name carries the memory of that ancestor down through the years.

First names presented a different challenge.  To be historically accurate, you only have twenty or so given names to choose from.  Take out the ones you need for the real historical personages (King James) and the ones that are not heroic (Archibald), the ones so similar as to be confusing (Janet/Jean) and those I’ve used in other stories (Duncan, Gavan) and the list shrinks considerably.

Border folk used to differentiate with nicknames.  Sim the Laid vs. Sim of the Mains or Nebless Clem vs. Clem the Clash helped sort out which individual you meant, much more than adding a surname.  At that point, there were no doubt a dozen men named Robert Armstrong.  I was sparing with nicknames, except with secondary characters.  However, Bessie’s brother, clan leader, earned the moniker “Black Rob.”

Here’s an excerpt from CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD.  The heroine’s brother is celebrating his wedding and the hero has followed her into the kitchen, where she needs to replenish food and drink.  Suspicious of his reason for coming to the celebration uninvited, she has just asked him bluntly why he is there.


Captive of the Border LordCarwell kept a smile clamped on his lips.  He was learning not to underestimate Bessie Brunson, but it was hard to keep that in mind when he looked at the woman.  Red hair tumbled over her shoulders, her brown eyes sparked with suspicion, and her lips were full and soft and ready…

He stopped his thoughts.  “Leave this night for celebration.  I’ll speak to your brothers tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?  When Rob’s head is double its size because of the wine he’s drunk this night and Johnnie is comfortably abed enjoying his new bride?”

He swallowed a sour retort.  “They’ll be ready to listen when they hear why I’ve come.  It’s a matter for men’s ears.”

She looked to Heaven before she met his eyes again.  “You’ve no women in your household.”

He blinked.  He hadn’t.  Not for years.  “No.  Not…now.”

The memory cramped his heart.  He would never take a woman for granted again.  A twinge, a weary sigh, these could signal the threat of something worse.

He set the thought aside.  That was not to be shared with anyone, least of all with this stranger.  Yet for a moment, he had imagined she would understand.

“If you had,” she said, “you would know that we do not need to be protected from the truth.”

Looking at this woman, he doubted that her family had protected from anything at all.  “Then you’ll know it when they do.  And it will be tomorrow.”  The king had no more patience than that.

Despite his offer of help, she asked for nothing as she moved around the room, effortlessly scooping up oat cakes and putting another batch near the hearth.  When she finished her sweep through the kitchen, she shook the girl awake and told her to watch that the fire did not burn the kitchen down.

Finally, she joined him at the door.

“You wanted to help.”  She set down her cakes, filled two flagons with ale from the barrel, and shoved them at him, her eyes flashing with anger.  “Carry these.”

Silent, he followed her into the cold, proud that he had refrained from pouring her precious ale into the dirt.  The woman was stubborn as the rest of her kin.  Maybe more so.

But as he watched the sway of her walk, he remembered the way she had leaned toward him in the dance, following his lead through the unfamiliar steps.  For those few moments, there had been nothing but music and movement and the two of them.

Well, her hatred would be back in force tomorrow.

Just as soon as she discovered he was here to take her brother hostage.

***Blythe Gifford Photo

So, do any of the Border family names sound familiar to you?  How about your own family’s name?  Is there a story there?  Or maybe you had a nickname you can share.  A lucky reader who comments on today’s blog will be randomly selected to win a signed copy of (your choice) RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, Book 1, or CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, Book 2, of The Brunson Clan trilogy.  Book 2.  And look for TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL, in March.

Winner! Mary Anne Landers. Congrats!

Blythe Gifford has been known for medieval romances featuring characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. Now, she’s set a trilogy on the turbulent Scottish Borders of the early Tudor era:  RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, November 2012, CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, January 2013, and TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL, March 2013.  The Chicago Tribune has called her work “the perfect balance between history and romance.”  Visit her at,, or

Author photo by Jennifer Girard.  Excerpt Copyright © 2013 by Blythe Gifford, Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Cover Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited

® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.

36 Responses to MuseTracks Guest – Blythe Gifford – On the naming of characters – GIVEAWAY!

  1. My maiden name is Yates, but after 2 changes of name later, I have been a Ward for the past 6 years. Ward means guardian, derived from ‘Warden’. Not sure if it means warding off evil because my children may look innocent….lol


  2. jbrayweber says:

    LOL! Too funny, Amanda. Though my children’s last name is Weber, which is a variant of Weeber, meaning weaver, I’m pretty sure they are weavers of chaos. They sometimes drive me insane!


  3. I’ve got about a dozen Mary’s followed with a middle name of Jo, Joan, Lou or Louise on my mom’s side and all the men in her family have the last two initials of RP…been naming people as such since they came to the USA on boats.


  4. jbrayweber says:

    That is so cool, Annette! We have a lot of Kays as middle names in my family. Mine is not one of them. I’m a Whitney. Not a name that was passed down. 🙂


  5. Anna Bowling says:

    Family lore says my mother ended up being named Erma Emma because my grandfather’s English (he was an Italian immigrant) was shaky. My grandmother had been sedated for the birth, so the nurse asked my grandfather what he wanted to name his new baby girl. He knew my grandmother wanted either Erma or Emma, but he didn’t remember which and wanted to wait until she woke. The nurse wrote Erma as the first name and Emma as the middle name on the birth certificate, and that was that.


  6. jbrayweber says:

    What a great story, Anna. How did your grandmother feel about that, I wonder?


  7. Joy F says:

    Emma has been in our family for generations. My grandmother and aunt, my middle name and now my niece.


  8. jbrayweber says:

    Emma is such a pretty name! 🙂


  9. Thanks for coming today Blythe! We’re happy to have you at Musetracks. What a great excerpt and I love that cover!

    I don’t have any fun name facts, but I love how names are carried down through the years. My brother was a Carroll Bradford after two grandfathers. My son is a Leonard Marting after two great grandfathers. It’s not only a legacy, one grandfather once said, it’s also a compliment. 🙂



  10. jbrayweber says:

    I like to think of it as passing on a legacy. It almost saddens me that neither myself nor my sister had boys. I would love to honor both my grandfather and my dad by passing their name along. Maybe one of my girls will feel so inclined. But not any time soon. They’re still little!


  11. jbrayweber says:

    It’s such a pleasure to host you again, Blythe.

    I think it is such an honor to have a family name passed down. My dad was named for his dad, and if I had borne a boy, I would have taken on the name, as well.

    My oldest daughter is named Kinley. It wasn’t until she was around three that I found out I had a relative in the late 19th century with the same name (though he was male). LOL!

    Thanks again for being our guest.



  12. Yasmine says:

    Blythe, having read Return of the Border Warrior, and been introduced to Bessie I’m glad to see she has her own story. It’s interesting that you used nicknames for characters because of limitations of names. I remembered my family did the same, ‘Little Mary’ who was named after her mother, ‘Gator Bill’, his real name was William and he loved to wear alligator shoes. I really like the interaction between Bessie and Carwell.


  13. jbrayweber says:

    How interesting, Yasmine. I like that…Gator Bill.
    My grandfather was named Winfred Vannoy, but everyone called him Bill. *shrug* My dad is Vannoy Winfred, but everyone calls him Butch. Go figure.


  14. Hello! Love hearing your stories. Amanda, the hero of this book is a Border Warden, who was a combination of Sheriff and Governor of his territory. And Anna, your story reminds me of a family story of mine, partly because Erma was a name in our family, too! Thanks to everyone for the comments. Yasmin, later on in the story, my heroine meets three friends at court all named “Mary.” They had to have nicknames to differentiate them!


  15. Yasmine says:

    I love it! Can’t wait to read how Bessie handles the three Marys.


  16. Thank you for your post and giveaway, Blythe. I wish more fiction writers, in romance and other genres, would choose names for their characters with as much thought and care as you do. Names might not matter to all readers, but they do to me.

    It hurts verisimilitude if a historical-fiction character has an anachronistic name. Many out-of-period mistakes can be quickly forgotten, or at least overlooked, if the theme, plot, and character engage the reader. But a name crops up every time the character who bears it appears or is mentioned. If there’s something wrong with this detail, the reader will be reminded of it repeatedly.

    I haven’t dug up my roots, so I don’t know much about my ancestors. But I know that though “Landers” originated independently in several countries, in my case the surname is German. It refers to a class of knights in medieval times. Not the highest on the social ladder, but at least they owned their own land.

    In my state of Arkansas, “Landers” is well-known because it’s the name of the biggest and most widely-advertised string of car dealerships. Am I any relation? Who knows. Maybe I can stop by one of the Landers showrooms and say, “Hi there! I’m your long-lost cousin Mary Anne. Got any great deals for family members?”

    Keep up the good work!


  17. jbrayweber says:

    So great to have you share your surname, Mary Anne. I didn’t know it refers to a class of knights. Interesting. 🙂


  18. Mary Anne, when I think of “Landers,” I think of Ann, the advice columnist. I did not know the origin of the name, which, as one who has written extensively in the medieval era, I should. Thanks for sharing that.
    And thanks for your kind words. I do try to avoid having a “Tiffany” running around the castle…


  19. Blythe: “Ann Landers” was a pen name. It was created in 1943 by Ruth Crowley, who wrote the advice column in the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1955 both the column—by then widely syndicated—and the name were taken over by Esther Lederer. She became something of a cultural institution as a purveyor of advice until her death in 2002. The successor to the “Ask Ann Landers” column is “Annie’s Mailbox”, written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar. Currently it appears in around 800 newspapers.


  20. Donna Killian says:

    You always have some much interesting things to say. I wish I had someone like you for my history teacher when I was young. I love historicals and wish my grandmothers were still alive to tell me about my relitives. My aunt says we are related to someone named Ninion Beall 1512, her maiden name was Bell. She is tracing family history back to England, Scottland,Ireland I think Ausrialia, I can’t keep up. Keep on writing, we will all be here ready to read.


  21. jbrayweber says:

    Donna…sounds enticing. I bet your aunt will uncover so very interesting things about your family. Thanks for stopping by!


  22. Mary Ann – And Esther Lederer’s sister? Dear Abby! But I’m sure you knew that.
    Donna, how kind of you. I do hope my readers get swept away into history and that they just might want to dig a little deeper. Family history, of course, is the MOST interesting. I know more of my mother’s than my father’s side. Is that true for most people??


  23. bn100 says:

    Very informative post. The names sound interesting.


  24. jbrayweber says:

    Thanks for stopping by, bn100!


  25. Blythe: I too know quite a bit more about my roots on my mother’s side. During my lifetime there have been more living relatives on her side of the family, and I’ve had more interaction with them.

    Yes, Pauline Phillips, aka Abigail Van Buren, and Ann Landers were sisters. The former is still alive at age 94, though long retired. Her daughter Jeanne now writes the “Dear Abby” column.


  26. Thanks for sharing those tidbits, Mary Anne. I, too, realized too late all the questions I should have asked about family history long ago.


  27. Our family tradition is to name after family members. I have family names for my characters that are names from my family.


  28. Love naming your characters after your family. My family names don’t lend themselves to that. Yet!


  29. jbrayweber says:

    Sometimes a name just fits a character. I’ve used my own middle name for a character just for that reason. Thanks for coming by, Ella!


  30. I would love to read this series. It sounds really good. Please enter me in contest.


  31. jbrayweber says:

    Done, Victoria!


  32. Linda Thum says:

    I have 2 older sisters & my granny really wanted a grandson. When I turned out to be another girl granny wanted to name me “enough” (in chinese, I’m Asian). Luckily she was overruled & my name means “beautiful bell” instead.


  33. Linda – what a great story. Glad your grandmother was overruled!


  34. jbrayweber says:

    Beautiful bell…a beautiful choice. 🙂


  35. JackieW says:

    Enjoyed reading your blog today. Your book sounds interesting.


  36. jbrayweber says:

    Thanks for popping in to visit with Blythe, Jackie.


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