Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Names Redux

We've had enough new folks start chiming in on our discussions that I decided to pull out a couple of the original Betty by the Numbers pieces in the hope they may be useful.  This was my first effort, in response to regular commentary, including a full post, about Betty's use and re-use of certain names.  Next week:  servants' names.

From the beginning, when she created the eventual Baroness Adelaide Blankenaar van Essen, to the Aramintas and Olivias and their various Gijses and Jameses, we have loved Betty for her names.  No Dracon Leloupblancs in Neels-land!  Perhaps you have your own favorites – maybe Britannia and her Jake, or the Ms. Makepeace who finds happiness with Mr. ter Brons Huizinga, or the near-ridiculousness of Lucy Lockitt or Eustacia Crump (or Krijn van der Brink-Schaaksma, come to that).

For those who may find a superficial study of interest, I’ve run a few numbers:


Eleven first names get used three times each.  These popular young women are:  Araminta, Beatrice, Charity, Deborah, Emma (there are also two named ‘Emily’, making Emma/Emily the #1 Neels name), Francesca, Julia (plus one Julie, so Julia/Julie becomes runner-up), Katrina, Louisa, Matilda and Serena.  There are also two Mary Janes and one Mary, but I don’t count that as three ‘Mary’ variants – would you?

This seems like a high proportion of names ending in ‘a’.

Harriet Tubman, 1820-1913, born Araminta Harriet Ross according to Wikipedia.  For non-US readers, Araminta Harriet was born into slavery, escaped to a free state and then returned to work the so-called Underground Railroad, guiding over 70 slaves to freedom.  She subsequently worked for the Union army as a spy, and packed heat as an Army scout.  She had mystical visions she believed were messages from God, but they might just have been hallucinations resulting from a serious head wound she suffered when beaten by a ‘master’ in her childhood.  Would history be different if she’d stuck with the ‘Araminta’?

Fifteen first names show up in two books (including Loveday, Philomena and Eulalia), which leaves 72 unique-use first names.  There’s no Charlotte, which some sources report as Betty Neels’s daughter’s name, and no Jessie, Evelyn or Betty, which are the various names credited to the author.  (I haven’t tracked secondary characters’ names, but there’s at least one Great-Aunt Jessica.)

All told, Betty used just 98 first names across 135 stories.  But she managed to come up with 112 last names for the ladies!

For heroines, last names run more toward the usual than we see in the first names, though feet show up more than they might in your own daily life, with two Proudfoots and two Lightfoots.  Since there are two Creswells (single ‘s’) and two Cresswells (double ‘s’), I’m crowning that the queen of surnames.  Five show up three times each:  Brown, Crosbie/Crosby, Parsons, Smith and Trent.  Besides the feet, eleven other last names repeat, but there’s only one each of Pennyfeather, ffinch and Darling.  And how is it I never really noticed before that Judith, of Judith, carries the last name Golightly?


Hannah Lightfoot (1730 - ??), a Quaker from London who married outside her faith, ran away from her husband, disappeared and was presumed dead before she was 30 .  Some unkind scalawag started an entirely untrue rumor that the very shy, 15-year old future George III had stolen her from her husband and married her, which rumor apparently persists still, which is enough to land her in Wikipedia.


Okay, first of all, 91 of the heroes are Dutch, so 44 are English, a two-thirds/one-third split.  Of the Dutch, 13 are Jonkheers or Barons, while the English muster six knights (“Sir William,” “Sir Paul”).  That’s 14% titled heroes, which is certainly higher than what I can boast amongst my family, friends and acquaintance (currently 0%, though I did once chat with an earl in his gorgeous garden in the County Offaly), but seems fairly moderate compared to the number of billionaires, sheiks and princelings who populate current genre romance.

Birr Castle in County Offaly has one of the absolutely most bee-yoo-tee-ful gardens I have ever visited.  I was wandering the grounds one morning, waiting for an Irish nurse’s wedding to start (not a lot else to do in Birr village), when a courtly older gentleman asked my opinion on lilacs.  In the course of our conversation (thank you, Arnold Arboretum) he made clear that he owned the castle, which would make him the Earl of Rosse.  Lovely man.  You can have lunch with him (or his son; my chat was 20 years ago) and the countess for 115 euros per person if you get 29 others to kick in with you.

Since the masculine equivalent of “Eulalia” (whatever that is – Ethelred?) would probably get an author laughed out of the publishing house (although, given “Dracon,” perhaps not), Betty narrowed her scope considerably with men’s names, using just 86 across the 135 books – though the Brits repeat far more often than the Netherlanders do.  James shows up six times; Jake and Oliver five each; Alexander and Thomas four times apiece.  Gijs and Julius are among the seven names that make three appearances each; the others are all English.  Yes, Julius wouldn’t be an unusual name for an Englishman, but in Neelsland he’s Dutch each time.

There are two heroes named Haso, Renier, and, of all things, Benedict.  Both Benedicts are Dutch.  (In the US, “Benedict” used to connote one man to many people; “Benedict Arnold” is a vernacular synonym for traitor, since the historical figure was infamous for plotting to turn the West Point Fort over to the British during the Revolutionary War.  However, Joseph Ratzinger has done a lot to change that.)

Saint Benedict of Nursia – he is a monk, Charity Dawson!

Hissing and byword Benedict Arnold, pre-defection.

There are a total of 15 names that show up twice, and 16 if you count the English Valentine Seymour (called “Val” by his sister) and the Dutch Valentijn van Bertes as a repeat.  Then we get 57 that don’t repeat at all, including Fenno, Raf and Sam.

A Valentijn (Overeem, Dutch mixed-martial arts fighter)
for Daisy (Buchanan, as played by Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby, though she may prefer to stick with Robert Redford).  In real Betty-life, Daisy got
  a Valentine – perhaps Val Kilmer would do, if rumors as to his full name are correct.

But it is with last names for men that Betty truly spread herself, coming up with a total of 131 distinct last names.  The only repeaters, with two each, are Fforde, Latimer, Seymour and van Diederijk (Tane from An Apple for Eve and Sarre from Sun and Candlelight).  Sixty-five men’s names start with “van” and seven with “ter.”  Curiously, on the other side of the channel, there’s both a Tait-Bouverie and a Tait-Bullen.  Perhaps they’re related.  Eight English and one Dutch surname are hyphenated, which in England is often seen as a sign of upper-class-ish-ness.

The UK poet laureate from 1968-1972, C. Day Lewis, deliberately changed his name from Day-Lewis to Day Lewis, reflecting what he called ‘inverted snobbery,’ “and thereby threw librarians into a confusion from which they have not recovered,” according to Norton’s.  Reason enough, surely for a photo of his son, Daniel. I’m afraid his hair may be a bit long for Betty, but I could stand a lot of Chinese food if I were sitting across from that...

Two surnames occur in both heroes and heroines:  the aforementioned Creswell/Creswell for four heroines and a single hero, and two Seymours of each sex.  Wikipedia lists three English villages called Cresswell, and 15 people, including Sir Cresswell Cresswell PC KC (1794-1863), who “set divorce on a secular footing, removed from the traditional domain of canon law.”  Somehow I doubt that’s the one Betty was honoring.  There are five places called Creswell in Wikipedia, two in the UK and three in the USA, plus a Navy base in Australia.  The five human Creswells include K.A.C. Creswell, the English architectural historian – sounds good so far, doesn’t it? – specializing in Egyptian Islamic architecture – yea, maybe not so much.


The generic Betty Neels couple is Emily (called Emma) Creswell and James van Diederijk.  Neither combo actually shows up in the canon.


  1. I think it's interesting that she has so many repeats. I'd think that an author would really have to LOVE a name to put it in more than one of their books, and ditto for their editor to accept a repeat. I think I'd probably be scouring baby name books before I went with something I'd done before.

    Of course, it's a good thing I don't write romance, because I had a heck of a time just naming my two girls. We didn't know what we were having either time, so we had a girl and boy name for both. The boy name was easy (Daniel Ethan) but I was super picky about girl names. I even had criteria:

    1. It needed to actually mean something (not recently made up).
    2. Not easily shortened to a nickname.
    3. Not something that would sound silly once she's in a rest home (an 89 year old Kitzi or something similar).
    4. It needed to be spelled correctly (no Madysyn for me, thanks).
    5. It couldn't make weird words when initialized.

    We ended up with Audrey Caroline (for me) and Meredith Danielle (for my DH, whose middle is Daniel, hence the boy's name), and I think we did a pretty good job, although Meredith does get called Mer all the time. Oh well. Four out of five isn't bad.

    All that to say I could have never picked out 135 girl names without much pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth, and that's not even thinking about last names! :)

    1. I counted the names of my graduation class, back when Betty van den Betsy published her post Betty by the Numbers: Names. I happened to have a document on my computer from our latest class reunion.
      There were 111 students in total.

      First Names
      Girls (66):
      One name was shared by five girls,
      four names had three bearers thereof, (one with a variation in spelling 2xn/1xnn),
      six names were shared by two girls each, and
      thirty-seven names had just one bearer.

      Boys (45):
      One name was shared by four boys,
      five names had three bearers, (one with a variation in spelling 2xC/1xK),
      three names were shared by two boys each, and
      twenty names had just one bearer.

      One surname was shared by three students, two girls and one boy,
      two surnames had two bearers each, one was shared by two girls, one by one girl and one boy,
      104 surnames had just one single bearer.

      These names were shared, or not shared by people born within the span of about three years. The Great Bettys characters "were born" within the span of about thirty years. All things considered, the number of repeats in her novels does not seem unrealistic to me.

  2. BbtN Redux ™, what a great idea! The Great Betty in a nutshell. I still cannot like Daniel Day Lewis, there is something sinister about him. The next time one of you ladies enthuses about some guy I may feel tempted to teach you a little Danish, ha ha.
    Saw Benedict on tv, yesterday. His red shoes were pointed out.
    Hyphenated last names are not necessarily signs of "upper-class-ish-ness" in my country. There are a number of surnames starting with Müller-... and Mayer/Meier/Meyer-..., for example. Hyphenated surnames became all the rage when the law was changed and allowed people to hyphenate their names upon marriage. Often with peculiar (read: ludicrous) results.
    I see Betty Barbara and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on the globe, which reminds me. Earlier today, I saw Lunenburg and at the same time someone from Leyton, Waltham Forest!!! The Great Betty's place of birth.

    1. P. S.: I think I still have Eric Wilson The Ghost of Lunenburg Manor somewhere in one of my bookcases.

  3. I like "Betty" by the numbers... - Interesting and FUNNY... - It would be nice to have it's own "sub-page" so we can read them all in one place.. - THOUGH I take exception to the making fun of Krijn's first and last name (He's a favorite of mine, since I read the book a month ago... - Thank Goodness though Beatrice starts calling him by his first name pretty quickly!) :) I'd be interested in "Betty by the numbers for Ratings/Rankings from the reviews" and I'd like a page for posters to post their "top" 20 list of favorite Betty's (then you could do the Numbers for that too! :).... - I'd like to see that list of who likes what book best- I'm curious that way!

    1. I like that idea a lot! I'd love to see people's favorites.

      Betty AnoninTX

  4. Y'know how the first-born sons of Dutch doctors and English nurses are usually named for their fathers, or at least a great-uncle? I recently finished up a bio of Eleanor of Aquitaine (by Alison Weir and very good), and was fascinated by the nicknames assigned to various counts, dukes, princes and kings to distinguish them from their ancestors with the exact same names. I cheerfully offered the Jonkheer a new nickname, chosen from one of the many family trees. "The Red" didn't work, and "The Young" no longer applies; "The Good" seems a bit of a stretch, frankly, and what is a "greymantle"?

    Then I found it: Fulk IV, called "the Surly." His nickname in whatever version of French they used in Anjou in the 11th century was "le Rechin," which doesn't translate today, but is variously begged as "the Ill-tempered," "the quarreler" and "the heroic." Aaww. There you go, sweetie.

    1. Geoffrey Greymantle - and what is a "greymantle"?

      A greymantle is a grey mantle, a piece of clothing.
      Gosfridus / Gaufridus Grisa Tunica

      Venerunt statuto die Parisius convocati principes, duces videlicet et consules, et totius Franciæ magnates omnesque majores natu quorum peritia præminebat simul in aula regis convenerunt. Gaufridus comes Andegavis, indutus tunica illius panni quem Franci grisetum vocant, nos Andegavis buretum, inter principes sedebat. Molendinarius ad hoc a rege evocatus, affixis oculis, ipsum agnovit, et licentia a rege postulata, vultu jucundus ad Consulem accessit, qui genu flexo, arrepta Comitis tunica, Regis et cæteris ait: “Hic cum hac grisa tunica, sternendo Danum, Francorum opprobrium abstulit et exerciui eorum terrorem incussit.” Rex ut deinceps Gaufridus Grisa Tunica vocaretur edixit, cui omnis multitudo assensum præbuit

      Geoffrey Greymantle

      Now on the appointed day the princes who had been summoned, namely the dukes and consuls and the magnates of all France, and all of those of high birth, known for their skill, gathered in the royal hall. Geoffrey count of Anjou, garbed in a tunic of that cloth which the French call grisetum, and we Angevins buretum, seated himself among the princes. Now the miller, who had been summoned for this purpose by the king, knew Geoffrey the moment he laid eyes on him and, with the king's permission, approached the consul with a joyous expression. On bended knee, having grasped the count's tunic, he said to the king and the others, "this man, in this grey shirt, struck down the Dane and lifted away the shame of the Franks, and struck terror into their army." The king proclaimed that thereafter he should be called Geoffrey Greymantle, and the whole assembly gave its assent.