My main character in The Factory Girl and the Fey, Jane Thorburn, is loosely based on my great-great grandmother. Her father’s name was Robert. Her love interest is also Robert. You may be picking up on a problem here!
Scotland has traditional naming conventions, the details of which can be found Here. As the author, I had to decide how to deal with the duplication issue. To give everyone new names would disrespect the tradition. To keep everyone’s name the same would require other strategies.
The first thing I did was to give the younger Robert a nickname, Rabbie, which is also a nod to Robert Burns.
Peripheral characters were easier to deal with. One of the “Johns” in my ancestry turned into a Ewan, for example (he was an uncle), and a second Sarah became Kirstin. Since their parents and grandparents weren’t part of the story, I could change the names easily and thus reduce duplication.
The biggest challenge was Hugh, Hugh, and Hugh. My great-great-great grandfather was Hugh Stein. He had a son named Hugh and a grandson named Hugh, all of which appear in the story. What to do with this?
I made the elder Hugh Stein (Rabbie’s father) a stern gentleman who liked to be addressed with proper respect. Jane calls him Mr. Stein, and he never invites Jane to call him anything else. I changed nothing about his son Hugh, because he’s a minor character, and it’s clear he’s a teenager with a tendency to roughhouse with his brothers.
The baby Hugh, who in real life was my great-grandfather, is referred to as Wee Hugh.
With regard to last names, readers may be surprised that a name like “Stein” was a Scottish name. There are Steins documented in Scotland as far back as the 13th century that I know of. Some of them were well known for making bad whisky but having the political clout to sell their swill while hampering the efforts of the Highland distilleries, which were superior in quality. I’ve not been able to connect my ancestors with these Steins, though I long to! It’s just too good of a story. It’s also the reason I focus more on writing fiction than being a good genealogist, where exact details matter.
Anyway, Stein means “stone” or “rock.” In Scotland it is pronounced STEEN, while in the U.S. we pronounce it STINE. There is no connection to Jewish Steins, and the use of this surname predates the time when Jews took surnames.
Thorburn is a name that likely has Viking roots, which is one reason I gave Jane reddish hair. My DNA is about 12% Scandinavian, so this could be part of that connection. I’ve only been able to trace this line back to about 1780, so who knows what happened before that? The real John Thorburn, like his fictional counterpart, was a man of the sea.
The Factory Girl and the Fey will be released October 14th! You can pre-order the book here. If you have a NetGalley account, you can read it for free there in exchange for a fair review.