Naming characters in medieval historical novels: The Troubadours Quartet: Jean Gill

I recently reviewed the fourth and final book in The Troubadours Quartet, a historical romantic adventure series by award-winning author Jean Gill. “Song Hereafter” is a beautiful conclusion to a remarkable tale set in the twelfth century. I was fascinated by the names of many of her characters who come from different countries and cultures. She has graciously agreed to be my guest today, satisfying my curiosity. Now I will turn it over to Jean!

jean gill
Jean Gill on Amazon

There’s a list of characters at the beginning of ‘Song Hereafter’ and it gave me a shock to realise that I’d included a hundred real 12th Century historical characters and twenty-five main fictional ones in the four books of the quartet. That’s a lot of names! So, how did I come up with the names?

You might be surprised to find that the names of real characters are a nightmare. Everyone of importance in 12th Century Provence seemed to be called Raymond, so, to distinguish between them, I used the various spellings – Raymond (English) for the Count of Toulouse, Ramon (Catalan) for the Count of Barcelona and Raimon (Occitan) for the Viscount of Carcassonne. All I had to do was remember which spelling for which Raymond and it was a cinch 😊 I could have used nicknames, Welsh-style, like Raymond the-corner-shop and Raymond-the-red, but I like my history to be as accurate as possible so I don’t make up nicknames for real people.

I do make up nicknames for fictional characters though and when I was deciding on my hero’s name, I knew he’d have a nickname and that he would be from the Occitan culture of the south of (what is now) France. I looked up registers of 12th century names online, specific to my region, and bought an Occitan-English dictionary so I could find names in that language. I found out that in Occitan the ending ‘etz’ is like ‘Junior’ in the USA or ‘ette’ in French, meaning ‘little’ or ‘the younger’. I came across several descriptions in Occitan but ‘los Pros’, ‘the Brave’ stuck in my mind.

Then, when I found that ‘dragon’ was an Occitan word, I knew I had a match, the same way I name my dogs by looking into their eyes. I read many fantasy books and I believe in the magic of names. Dragonetz los Pros could never have been called anything else, suggesting history swirling with adventure for the son of Lord Dragon of Ruffec (a place-name that is like so many in real medieval Aquitaine, his homeland). Of course, he had to earn his nickname and that story is told fully in Bladesong, Book 2.

The naming of his lady-love and fellow troubadour came from telling her story. My idea for ‘Song at Dawn’ always started with a girl in a ditch and a gigantic white dog and so that’s what I wrote, with only a vague idea of what she was doing there but I was sure she would become a troubadour and I knew how that would happen. The story was telling itself and I was following her thoughts in that ditch.

song at dawn
Available on Amazon

‘I am still alive. I am here. I am no-one,’ she whispered. She remembered that she had a plan but the girl who made that plan was dead. Had to be dead and stay dead. So who was she now? She needed a name.
The girl wanted to be a troubadour and, like rock stars today, it was common practice for the troubadours to take on stage names. What would have inspired her and what would she have seen, on the run, desperate, waking from a night in a ditch? I knew because I live in Provence and I see it every morning, beautiful and an inspiration.

‘Stella’, I thought, coming up with the Latin term for ‘star’. Then, thinking of Venus or ‘the morning star’ as we so often call it, I turned to my Occitan dictionary. Estela de Matin was born and I think it’s a lovely name. Her birth name is one that she can’t hide forever and that came from more online trawling through directories of medieval names.

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Each name in my cast of twenty-five was chosen with the same care, including a dog, a horse and a hawk who all play an important role in this epic story. To make matters more complicated my main characters are not all Occitan, and not all Christians, so I had to research medieval French (not Occitan), Catalan, Welsh, Jewish and Muslim names, in different languages and cultures. I was helped by looking at the structures of real historical characters and I can’t promise I always ‘got it right’ but I certainly tried!

Plaint eBook cover
Available on Amazon

You can see all the names from the quartet at the start of ‘Song Hereafter’ in the ‘Look Inside’ feature so feel free to comment or ask questions. I’m happy to discuss and learn!






Song Hereafter is available as a paperback and an e-book. Song_hereafter_eBcov (1)


Jean’s website

Amazon author page

Facebook Troubadours Page

Facebook Author Page


Sign up for Jean’s Newsletter for exclusive news and offers, with a free book as a welcome.


My Review of Song Hereafter

My Review of Book 1: Song at Dawn

My Review of Book 2: Bladesong

My Review of Book 3: Plaint for Provence



6 thoughts on “Naming characters in medieval historical novels: The Troubadours Quartet: Jean Gill

  1. Lovely to visit your blog, Lizzi. I had not realised how much time I could spend talking about each name in The Troubadours Quartet!

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