|Edith May Anderson and Dorothy Gale McNeil. I researched hard.|
The main thing is that authenticity will get you. Every damn time. It is the major way people fuck up making a historical character and it's where I find myself face palming every time. If you want to name your character McKayla Piper Wallace, that's all well and good for your modern girl1, but they didn't name girls that back in the 19th century, and it's really going to jar your authenticity to do that mess.
Let's stop you from naming historical your girl a name that makes us go "Eugh, that's...nice." and get you to to a name that makes us go "Oooo, that's nice!"
To start, ask yourself some questions. Don't just start grabbing and flinging things at the wall to see what sticks. You'll get somewhere if you start with a good foundation. A few questions to start with:
- What's your character's culture? Maybe she's Swedish, or English. African-American, or Indian2 or Spanish or Italian or Korean. She'll likely have a first name that reflects that culture, and almost certainly a last name that will.
- What decade was she born in and what were the popular names of the time? You might not be able to look up too far back--name records generally only go back to the late 1800s in the US--but you can also look in literature and history to find names that were appropriate for the time. Take for example, that a lot of people born in the 60s and 70s got "flower child" names, like Willow or Daffodil or Clover or Rainbow. Or Moon Unit. Never forget Moon Unit Zappa. Oh, Frank.
- What nicknames or derivatives can come from a name? Molly, for example, is a derivative of Mary. Samantha often was called Sam. Cécile's nickname is Cécé. Last names can come into play as well, but more on that later.
- Were middle names popular? They may or may not have been. Be cautious but don't be scared away. Note that the most common middle names for a girl nowadays are Lynn, Anne, Renee, and Elizabeth. You might want to skip those. And some people have two middle names.
- What is their religion? A lot of Catholic girls, for example, had the first name "Mary" after the Virgin Mary and a middle name after their saint day, like Maria Josefina Montoya. A Puritan girl could have a virtue name, like Prudence or Chastity. Or Remember Patience. (Heh. I love so many of the Dear America books.) Don't rule out saints and/or names from the bible--a lot of Jewish children might have names from the Bible. Fatima is a lovely Muslim name.
- What does her name mean? Addy's name, Aduke, means "beloved" in Yoruban, while Felicity means "Happiness." "Regina" means "queen" and Natalie means "born (on Christmas)."
- Does her name mean something to her family? (Family gets more detail in the next part.) Maybe her parents blended their names, or named her after a grandparent or other relative. Perhaps she has a twin, and their names have a theme. Dorothy in my gang, for example, has a mother who has loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and so, when she had a daughter, named her "Dorothy Gale". Kit was named after her mother and aunt, Margaret Mildred.
- Did someone name her something to be a jerk? Slave owners often gave their slaves lofty names just to be asses, no shit--or worse, low grade names. So you got things like "Queen" and "Squire" alongside "Buck" and "Sissy" and "Cowslip."
- Did her parents name her something uplifting? Many African-Americans reclaimed lofty names in the Civil Rights and Radical 70s--since many white people refused to address a black person respectfully, they would force the issue. So you had children named elegant names like "Sir", "Lady", "Duke", or "Prince." My people were crafty.
Don't mar or stereotype other cultures. For fuck's sake, just DON'T. You might have picked a character from a culture not your own--which means doubling down on research. Work at it and come up with something respectful, and authentic. And don't dare go for stereotypes. No naming your black girl Ebonita because she's brown3 or Kimono because she's Japanese or defaulting to "Jade" for a Chinese girl.
An example of stupid naming shit? In my *cough* wonderful stint on message boards, I ran into a woman who insisted that every Japanese girl's name should end in "-ko" because that meant "girl child." It was pointed out that this was very much otherwise by many, many people. Including me, whose initial knowledge of Japanese names came from Sailor Moon, and the only Senshi I can name with a name ending in -ko is Minako. One of ten (eleven with Small Lady/Chibi-Usa). Oh snap. Still, the woman doubled down on this being true, she knew this because of her learnings. To this day, I still think she's a Dragged idiot with just enough knowledge to be stupidly dangerous, and I don't even talk to her anymore.
When I named Kimmy--whose full name is Kyung-Mi Kim--I actually asked a Korean friend of mine if her name and the names of her sisters sounded right, and she told me it was pretty appropriate, so I kept it. But back up the question train. This does not mean pestering people for their opinions. Don't just go around pestering strangers mining for data. And if a person of any culture says they don't want to help you, then they have that right to say no.
|Kyung-Mi "Kimmy" Kim, and Tyanna Lewis.|
But enough about that. On to last names. They are a little easier but can be tricky, especially if you don't want something boring. There's cultural flows. Again, do some searching and researching:
- Mc and Mac often mean "son of" as well as last names like "-son". O' meant "grandson of."
- Smith is a hugely common last name---for WASP people, mind. There's also Johnson and Williams.
- A lot of enslaved black people were given the last name of whoever owned the plantation. Hence all those Washingtons and Jeffersons. Conversely, a lot of African-Americans, getting out of slavery, would pick their own last names.
- Let's not name Native people utter dreck like BuffaloHide or Running Creek or Igloo. I can't trust you.
- Many names were "Americanized" by officials when immigrants passed through Ellis Island, because people back then though names had to be more English and less ethnic.
- So called "Jewish" last names are actually often East European or German, and more reflect the culture they're from as well.
- Last names can help make nicknames too. Kit's nickname is also a derivative of her last name--and this is also true with my own character, Kimmy.
- There's the lists of most common surnames on Wikipedia. It lists by continent, and then by country. If your character comes from another culture, you might want to start there.
Finally, have some resources. A few good online resources for names:
- Popular Baby Names is a good resource back to the 1880s in the US, based on Social Security records. It will give you the top 200 first names per decade.
- Behind the Name is good to see when names not only came into popularity, but into practice. Again, it goes back only to 1880 for charts, but you can see when a name initially came into play, and when the popularity spiked and waned.
- English Names of the 1500s: A little old, but a lot of those names carried forward into the late 1700s and several up to today. Plus, it's got a nice list of last names.
- Popular Given Names US, 1801-1999 Now that's a list of names for a decent span of years!
- Random Name Generator I use this all the time to generate last names not only for my dolls, but for my writing.
- Fake Name Generator: This one too. Note that it also gives birthdays if you're having trouble pinning those down.
- Quick Name Generator: I love this one, for throwing out huge lists of names I later chunk off for other things.
- Wikipedia has lists of popular last names in other cultures, and lists of first names, and just...lists.For example: List of Most Popular Given Names. Start searching and start learning.
- Get a baby name book. I have tons of them. My fave is Beyond Jennifer & Jason.4 which skips meanings and goes for the cultural impact of a name. You can generally find them used for super cheap costs, after someone has ignored all the advice and named their child Dakota Mockingbird or some stupid shit.
- Google "(culture) names". But don't just grab one and run with it. Hat tip? Don't grab so-called "American Indian" names out of baby books or off the web. EVER. That shit is full of icky, smelly stereotypes.
If I can stop one person from naming their doll something as bad as Usagiko Madison dePizza from 1850s Chicago, I haven't wasted my letters.
|Felicity Merriman and Elizabeth Cole.|
1 I actually hate first names for girls names that begin with "Mc." Yes, that includes McKenna. But I can't stop you from pulling that bullshit. All I can do is advise you not to name your 1940s girl McMolly.
2 When I say Indian, I mean from India. If I'm talking about descendants of the first people in Americas who were minding their own shit 'til Europeans showed up, I call them Native Americans. Just because Columbus fucked it up 500 and some years ago doesn't mean I have to keep doing that shit.
3 True fucking story. Wait til I get to the part where she dressed her up for Halloween as Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo, because the doll was the same color. Yeah I can't fucking even.
4 Which is now called Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana. Come on, people. Update your name lists.