Well maybe nightmare is a little strong to describe my dilemma with guys named 'James'. Hey, it’s a great name - classic, noble, masculine, adaptable. But, when doing research for my novel, Song for a Lost Kingdom, it became the one name I dreaded to see in search results.
And of course it kept appearing over and over again.
I know readers can struggle to keep track of characters. To make it easier, each should have a unique voice and of course, a different name. Even two character names starting with the same letter can be confusing. So imagine my joy dealing with a hero and his nemesis that were both guys named James. And for good measure, the King at the heart of their conflict was also a guy named James.
Who are these James?
Here is a quick summary to the three main James in my books. And no offense to any James out there, but why are there so many of you?
James Drummond, born in 1713, was a young Jacobite patriot more or less forced into fighting by his family, sacrificing his own promising future to follow in the tragic footsteps of his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather and his great-great uncle - all of whom were named James Drummond. Great!
James Drummond, 3rd Duke of Perth, longed to be a man of science, commerce and politics, which was rapidly evolving in Scotland in 1745. When he was only 18 he laid out Perth’s central square and established a textile industry with a flax factory. Despite his accomplishments, he was drawn into the same battles that had consumed his family for the last two centuries.
His mother, Lady Jean, likely had the biggest influence. She told him if he did not fight like the other Scottish Clan chiefs to restore the royal House of Stuart, she would bestow a curse that would “blight him and his posterity for eternity.” Thanks, Mom.
Sir James Carnegie, born in 1716, was a Scottish MP and a Captain in the British army with a serious disdain for his extended family. Unlike James Drummond who's clan had a long history of supporting Scottish royalty and opposing union with England, Sir James spent his life in service to the British empire, motivated in part by revenge against the ‘wrongs’ done to him by his family and their support for the Scottish throne.
When he was just 13 years old, he succeeded his father as baronet. A year later his cousin, the 5th Earl of Southesk, (another James of course) died after fighting to restore James VIII to the throne. Eventually he was ‘attainted’ for his treason. All his titles and estates, which should have passed to his young cousin, were instead forfeited and James Carnegie was incensed.
Sir James would not only join the British army, become a captain and be elected as a British MP, he would also spend the rest of his life trying to claim his cousin’s lost title and estate which included Kinnaird Castle and the sprawling grounds around it. He finally succeed just before he turned 50 and then promptly died a year later.
While Sir James was a staunch supporter of the British Crown, his younger brother George supported the Jacobite uprising. They faced each other in the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and George barely escaped with his life.
James vs James in the fight for King James
These two James, Drummond and Carnegie, with very different world views and motivations, fought against each other in the struggle to restore another James - James Francis Edward Stuart to the throne during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46 that ended in the horrific 52 minute Battle of Culloden.
This James was truly defined by his fight for the crown. A few months after he was born, his Catholic father, James (are you getting a sense of my issue?) II of England / VII of Scotland, was deposed and exiled to France. When his father died in 1701, he claimed the throne as James III of England, James VIII of Scotland. The Jacobites in Scotland tried unsuccessfully to support this claim in the 1715 and 1745-46 uprisings.
James was recognized as King by France, Spain, Modena and the Papal states.
But he would never succeed in being recognized as King where it mattered most. Under English law he was attainted for treason in 1702 and his titles forfeited. As he grew older, hope for regaining the throne turned to his son, Charles – or Bonnie Prince Charles as history would come to know him, who led the failed 1745-46 rising to return his father to the throne.
After the defeat at Culloden, James and Charles fought about the future. But perhaps tired of the long fight, James helped install Henry, Charles' son and the only legitimate Stuart heir, as a Cardinal ending any hope for a Stuart dynasty.
Why so many James?
As you might have noticed, the names ‘James’ is prominent in the families of the Drummonds, the Carnegies and the Stuarts – the three main families from the past in my novel series. Between the main characters, and their families there are no less than ten James to juggle. Beta readers complained about all this and not only confused the main James with each other, but also with the King, and with the other members of their family.
I got the message loud and clear!
The popularity of the name James has continued unabated in Scotland for centuries. It is still one of the most popular boy’s names even today. Only ‘Jack’ is higher. (Advice for writers in the 23rd Century writing historical fiction with time travel back to early 21st century - there are very few boys being named ‘Benjamin’ right now.)
All this begs the question, why didn’t I just change their names? This would have been antithetical to my approach. Even though I am writing historical ‘fiction’ with a touch of fantasy, it was important for me that the ‘historical' part be as accurate as possible. Except for my main character, Adeena and her 18th Century alter ego, Katharine – all the main characters and events described in the past are based on real people.
To keep things simple though, I did find alternatives to calling all of them ‘James’. I reserved that for James Drummond, Adeena’s love from the past. All other James were referred to by title (King, Captain, Duke) or last name (Drummond, Carnegie) or middle name (Robert).
I still think James is a fine name. But only when used sparingly…