Have you seen name generators for romance characters? According to some of the games, my romance heroine names should be Dominika, Jenetta or Minnie. (And why am I never Queen Dominika or Lady Jenetta? Just wondering.)
This quiz suggests my romance heroine name is Elizabeth, inspired after the heroine of Pride & Prejudice.
I’m sure they say that to all the girls.
But where do the generators get the names? Are they all culled from actual romance novels? Or are they drawn from baby name books? I would love to know!
There’s an assumption that a romance character name—much like a romance author’s pen name—is fanciful, suggestive or unpronounceable. I’ve also met people whose only reference about the genre is from the Romancing the Stone movie and they think all heroines are Angelina and all heroes are Jesse.
There might be a kernel of truth in these beliefs. What are the names we see today in romance fiction? How can we find out?
I decided to search through a romance line published in the United States and the majority of the stories are set in North America. I looked at the main characters’ given names of 2,889 Harlequin Desires available on the Harlequin.com Web site. They were published from the 1990s to June 2019.
Taking the information found on the back cover copy of the Harlequin Desire books, I discovered that the character names are often the most popular ones in the United States.
The most commonly used names for Harlequin Desire heroines in the past 30 years are:
- Sara / Sarah
- Cate / Kate
- Meagan / Megan / Meghan
- Ana / Anna
- Clair / Claire / Clare
- Lilly / Lily
- Calli / Callie / Kali
- Lauren / Lauryn
- Nichole / Nicole
- Abbie / Abby
- Hanna / Hannah
Yes, I found some uncommon names for women in my research (e.g., Chardonnay or Kansas) and a few virtue names (e.g., Chastity or Prudence). On occasion, there were trendy names such as Harper. This name for a girl didn’t show up on the popular list until 2004, but in the past ten years, there are at least four Harlequin Desire romance heroines called Harper.
Some names might drop in popularity in the United States but have staying power in romance books. According to the Social Security Administration, the name Cassie was most popular in 1982. I noticed it dropped off the top 500 list after 2001 and the SSA stopped recording data for this name in 2009. Yet, it’s been a frequently used heroine name in Harlequin Desires for the past ten years.
The most commonly used names for Harlequin Desire heroes in the past 30 years are:
- Nic / Nicholas / Nick / Nicolas
- Alex / Alexander / Alexandre
- Matt / Matthew
- Michael / Mike
- Sam / Samual / Samuel
- Zac / Zach / Zachary / Zack
- Luc / Luke
- Rafael / Rafe / Raif / Raphael
- Dan / Daniel
- Gabe / Gabriel
- Jared / Jarrid / Jarrod
- Conner / Connor / Conor
- Dillon / Dylan
Once again, the top 20 names in these Harlequin Desires are frequently used in the United States. In my research, I found some hero names that suggest a strong, solid or tough man (e.g., Flint, Stern or Stone). There are also a lot of cowboy heroes in Desires and several of their names conjure up the idea of the West (e.g., Clint, Shane, Wyatt).
The name Rafael came in at number 11 on my list but it’s not one I see outside romance books. Yet, according to the Social Security Administration, it’s been in the top 200s for years. The name Rafael was most popular in 1985, ranking at #195, but it’s still going strong in the romance genre.
This leads me to question if romance books influence the popularity of a name. I don’t think so. Yes, the name Meghan (and the spelling variations) surged in popularity after The Thorn Bird miniseries aired in 1983. And, yes, many people named their daughter Isabella or Bella when the Twilight phenomenon was at its height. Yet I believe almost all romance books reflect which names are familiar and current at the moment rather than making them popular.
And, FYI, of the 2,889 Harlequin Desires I looked at, five romance heroes were named Jesse and two heroines named Angelina.