At the 1632 mini-conferences I have, several times, presented talks under the title “Time Passed in the Past.” Each talk is different (to avoid boring frequent attenders), but the theme remains the same each year. The past is not some vague, amoebic, blob that occurred before an individual's own memories kick in. Napoleon does not hobnob with Franklin D. Roosevelt on the field of Agincourt while David dispatches Goliath with a slingshot in the background, all of them attired in hooped skirts.

Therefore the Grantville Gazette editorial board valiantly excludes Roman centurions from Grantville's repertoire of attackers (and defenders), just as certainly as it prohibits the sudden discovery of an ample supply of nuclear warheads in the high school basement. This is all done in the interest of verisimilitude—a resemblance to the actual past of the earth that existed in April of the year 2000. The series is not fantasy, high or otherwise, but takes its function as alternate history seriously. The events that occur after the Ring of Fire are fictional, but must be plausible. The down-time characters who appear and interact with the roughly 3,500 time-traveling residents of Grantville may be either actual historical persons—in which case you as the author already know his or her name—or fictional creations. In the latter case, their actions and attitudes must be reasonable.

This principle extends to the names they carry.

Time passed in the past. What does this mean in regard to character names for the 1632 series?

First, it means that just because a name appeared in the Nibelungenlied, you cannot assume that the inhabitants of the Germanies were still using it a thousand years later. Conversely, just because your great-grandmother who immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1930 was named Helga, that doesn't mean that Scandinavia was populated by girls named Helga in 1630, three hundred years earlier. In the past, as in the present, fashions in names came and went. In some cases, they went and then came back. “Ingrid” would make a perfectly good German heroine for a story set in 1330 or 1930, but not in 1630. This means that the generic “baby name dictionaries” that just list the etymology and ethnic origin of a name variant are of almost no meaningful assistance in naming fictional characters for the 1632 series.

Just as an example, a couple of young ladies in 1632 got the names Gretchen and Annalise picked out of a baby name dictionary which identified them as German. Both are, in fact, modern nicknames. Gretchen Richter was baptized as Maria Margaretha. Her sister Annalise was baptised as Anna Elisabetha. (Their brother Hans, though, was probably baptized as Hans rather than the latinized form of Johannes. But he could have been baptized as Johannes, or as Johann.)

Secondly, in the early modern period, all European countries had an extraordinarily small treasury of given names in general use. There had been a much wider variety in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; there is a much wider variety today. If you think the current “most popular given name” trends are boring, consider that more than fifty percent of all women in Germany in the 1630s were named Anna, Elisabeth, or Maria, or some combination thereof (Anna Elisabeth, Maria Anna, Anna Maria, Maria Elisabeth). Generally speaking, if you want a female character with a less-boring name, find some reason to have her come from the Netherlands, or find a nickname.

Thirdly, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, fashions in names were usually more geographically limited than they are today, especially if the name was uncommon. My oldest son happens to combine a Swedish given name with a French Canadian surname. I've encountered “Karen” followed by a Hispanic surname and “Maureen” followed by an Italian surname. In almost every case, those modern combinations are an artifact of the marriage of individuals with different ethnic origins after their immigration to the United States. In 1632, if you find a character with a “French” given name and a “German” surname (or vice versa), the probabilities are extremely high that he's from the Rhineland.

Aside from the most common given names (Johann and Hans, alone or in combination with a middle name, accounted for nearly a third of all German males in the 1630s and John was even more widespread in some parts of England), it's prudent to look for regional variations. If you want to name your character “Arbogast,” then you had better make sure that the story mentions that he comes from Alsace. Sebald will either come from Nürnberg or, like the historical Württemberg relative of astronomer Johannes Kepler, have ties to Nürnberg. A seventeenth-century Otto is much more likely to come from Bamberg than from Königsberg. A seventeenth-century woman named Appollonia has a high statistical likelihood of coming from the Swabian region. In Italy, the use of classically derived names (Ercole from Hercules, etc.) was common. In the rest of Europe, it occurred occasionally, but was rare. If you want to name your heroine Lilias, then make her come from Scotland, or at least have Scottish ancestors.

Fourth, there were also religious distinctions. Protestants throughout Europe continued to use the names of pre-Reformation saints, even if they were not New Testament saints (examples are Margaretha, Barbara, Ursula, and Catharina for women; Martin, Benedict, Georg, and Nikolaus for men). However, it's a near guarantee that a character bearing the appellation of a Counter-Reformation saint (Nepomuk, Ignatius, Theresa) was baptized Catholic as an infant. French Huguenots in the seventeenth century regularly used given names taken from the Old Testament, just as the English Puritans did; French Catholics of the era rarely did so. French parents of both creeds, however, would occasionally choose a name of classical origin (Achille).

By this time, would-be authors may be throwing up their hands in frustration and screeching something along the lines of, “But how am I supposed to figure all this out?”

Fear not. There is a comparatively simple solution, created by the popularity of on-line genealogical research. Specifically, I refer you to the WorldConnect Project at with its immense and multiply searchable data base of over six hundred million given names. It's free.

Start by going to that site:

On the left-hand column of the home page menu, click on WorldConnect Project.

You will find blank spaces to enter something for Surname and Given Name. Since you aren't searching for a specific individual, enter nothing at all and click on the Go button.

This will bring up another menu. Now you can handle it two different ways.

Option one—if you need a name and don't have a clue:

Leave the spaces for Surname and Given Name blank.

In Birth Place, enter the place you are interested in (Suhl, Liverpool, Stockholm, Warsaw, Naples).

In Birth Year, enter 1600.

Move to the next blank that says Exact and change it to +/- 20 years.

Move to the bottom of the menu and hit Search.

If you entered Suhl as the birthplace, you'll get everyone in their data base who was born in Suhl for forty years right around the time period of interest for 1632 characters. Mix and match the surnames and given names to create plausible characters. You will make interesting discoveries, such as the fact that the people around Suhl named a lot of little girls Osanna, even though the name was very rare in the rest of the Germanies.

Option two—if you want to check specifically whether a certain given name was in use:

Still leave the space for Surname blank.

In Given Name, enter the given name you are searching (Clothilda, Clovis, Dagmar, Detlev, Eva, Emmeram, Hilda, Horst, Sidonia, Simon, Wilbur, Walpurgis).

In Birth Place, just enter a country (Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Poland, Spain, or . . . yes, in spite of the fact that there really was no such country in the 1630s . . . Germany).

In Birth Year, enter 1600.

Move to the next blank that says Exact and change it to +/- 20 years.

Move to the bottom of the menu and hit Search.

You will get all instances of that given name for forty years right around the time period of interest for 1632 characters. If the name most dear to your heart does not show up, go back, make Birth Place blank, and search again. Maybe it was in use somewhere else.


The data base is the fastest way to check out the historical viability of a proposed character name. It quickly eliminates made-up names from fantasy compilations, prevents the appearance of anomalies, and gives you some interesting options. For example, the board will almost certainly toss out a heroine named Tiffany. However, if you're willing to make her Sicilian, you can call her Tiphania. Or you can always go searching in other sources for evidence that the name you want to use was, in fact, present somewhere on the map of Europe in the 1630s. For England, for example, Burke's compilation on extinct and dormant peerages and baronetcies contains truly large numbers of names.

There's no point in pouting and deciding that if you can't name your hero Leland then you won't submit a story to 1632 Slush at all. Change him to Lambert or Lancelot. Flexibility is the name of the name game.

Other sources:

Smith-Bannister, Scott, Names and Naming Patterns in England 1538-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997) (Oxford Historical Monographs)