A Character Creation How-To

First things first, as a performer at renaissance faire you need to come up with a character concept: who you are, what you do, where you belong in the social strata of the world. In order to do this you need to do some research into the time in order to get an accurate picture of what you need. But how lucky you are that I've decided to put in the time and the work to help you with this. Below are several items that will contribute to helping you create your character. I hope this helps.

Here is my step by step guide to character creation. It's not as easy as 1 - 2 - 3, but it's easier than starting from scratch.

1. Faire Names - This is the first item you need before doing anything else. Choose your name - who is it that you are going to be? Are you going to use your name because it fits with the time period or are you going to develop an entirely new persona?
2. Points of Departure Worksheet - This is the next item to complete. Fill out this sheet with the given number of points (see Building Your Character Worksheet for point totals) - This item is taken in part from the English Company of Foote Leges Marchairum.
3. Building Your Character Worksheet - This worksheet allows for you to go into further detail regarding your character and who they are. This is designed to be used in conjunction with the P.O.D. worksheet
4. Character Development Questions - Now we are going to delve into your character's psyche and come up with the why's and how they affect you.

Now, you are on your way to having a full character. By no means, however, is the end of it. I suggest you slip into your character's shoes now and try to live their life for a short while (a good imagination comes in handy here). Keep your worksheets handy and have people ask you questions about yourself. Do this once a week or so until you feel comfortable walking in your character's footsteps.

The next step is to talk the way an Elizabethan would talk. GOOD LUCK!!

Character Development Questions

While you are filling out the "Who Am I?" worksheet, these are some good questions to be thinking about. These questions would be very useful in creating a more detailed background sketch for your character. Think long and hard about these questions because these will set the stage for how your character would act/interact, etc...

  • With whom do I live? Where do I sleep?

  • What did I have for breakfast? Who prepares my food?

  • How do I feel? How are my parents/wife/husband/brothers/sisters/significant other?

  • Where do I work? What time do I go to work? How many hours a day do I work?

  • How big is my home? How is my home constructed? How is my home heated? Who owns my home?

  • Am I able to read? How do I tell the time?

  • What am I afraid of?

  • How much money do I have in my pouch? What am I going to buy?

  • Who made my clothing? What did my clothing cost? Are these my only clothes?

Faire Names:
How to Choose a Name That Suits You

Your faire name is the persona you wish to portray at faire. It says a lot about who and what your are. For instance a midwife may name herself Sarah Birthright, or a butcher Simon Longwurst. In some instances the name you have at faire is chosen for you if you are playing an historical character. Since you don't have to choose your name you have the added responsibility of researching your character. There isn't any one particular place where you can find all that you need to know about your "persona" and will require time and effort on your part.

When choosing a name, you need to decide if you're going to be historical, common, or humorous. Use your imagination and try to make it appropriate. It may be a variation on your "real" (i.e. Mundane) name: a woman named Moore chose the name Bestmoore. Historical characters are all over the literature that we read, you need only to choose one, research it, and create the appropriate garb. If you are, instead, going for historical accuracy you would choose a common name. Did you know that 70% of the women in any town were named Elizabeth, Joan, Margaret, Anne, Alice, Agnes, Mary, Jane or Katherine? And approximately 70% of the men in any town were named John, Thomas, William, Richard, or Robert? Rather dull, but in the time period the pool of names that were available was considerably smaller. (See "List of Common Names") If you don't care to be overly historically accurate you can go for a humorous name. For example, William Bates would be called Master Bates (which is one of the most overdone character names in the world if you ask me). Be creative, please! And all those overly sexy and/or disgusting names are nowhere near as funny as you think they are.

Where Babies' Names Come From
(from: Faire Names for English Folk: Late Sixteenth Century English Names)

If you were born in Elizabethan England, your parents would name you when you were baptized. Usually this was just a few days after your birth. It was not, however, your parents who actually presented you at the church; it was your godparents: ideally, two women and a man if you were a girl, two men and a woman if you were a boy. It was very common for parents to try to get godparents who were higher in social status than themselves, such as local nobles or prominent people in town. Many parents also asked the baby's grandparents, aunts or uncles to serve as godparents. One reason the choice of godparents was important is that you would most likely be named after one of them. According to Scott Smith-Bannister's recent study about 75% to 85% of children were given the name of a godparent, in the cases where we know both the children's and the godparents' names.

His data also show that if you were not named for a godparent, you would probably be named after a parent or another close relative. You were especially likely to get the name of a particular godparent or relative if they had a lot of money or status. You and the person you were named after were referred to as "namesakes." Thus, parents clearly did choose a child's name with care, but not (as we do today) just because it was a name they had heard and liked. Usually only godparents' and parents' names were considered as possibilities.

Check out: Faire Names for English Folk: Late Sixteenth Century English Names


List of Common Elizabethan Names

Names are listed with the typical version first and variations thereof in italics afterwards.

Female Names

Alice Ales, Alice, Alyce
Anne Ann, Anna, Anne, Annes
Avis Avis, Avice
Bennet Bennet, Bennett
Christian Christian, Christean
Cybil Sybell, Sybyll
Dorothy Dorithie, Dorothee
Elizabeth Elizabeth, Elizabethe
Ellen Ellen, Ellyn
Francis Frances, Fraunces
Isabell Isabel, Isabell
Judith Judeth, Judith, Judithe
Katherine Katherine, Katheryne
Margaret Margaret, Margarett, Margerie, Margerye, Margret, Margrett
Mary Marie, Marye
Sidney Sindony, Syndony
Susanna Susanna, Suzanna
Winifred Wynefreed, Wynefrede, Wynnefreede

Male Names

Andrew Androw, Androwe
Anthony Anthonye, Anthonie
Daniel Daniel, Danyell
Edmund Edmonde, Edmond, Edmund
Edward Edwarde, Edward
Emanual Emanuell, Emanuel
Harry Harrye, Harry
Henry Henrie, Henry, Henrye
Humphrey Humphrey, Humphrie
James Jeames, James
Jeffrey Jeffrye, Geoffraie
John John, Johen
Leonard Leonard, Leonarde
Michael Michael, Mychaell
Nathaniel Nathaniell, Nathaniel, Nathanyell
Nicholas Nicholas, Nycholas, Nicholaus
Ralph Rafe, Raphe
Richard Richarde, Richard, Rycharde
Robert Roberte, Robert

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ã 2003, Suzanne L Gordon.
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property of
Suzanne L. Gordon (zansidhe@aol.com) unless otherwise noted.