On Monday we discussed What Not To Do when naming fictional characters. Today, let's talk What To Do.
1) Culturally Appropriate Names
Look for a culturally appropriate name that has significance for your character and the story. For example, Chinese females are given eloquent names that signify grace and beauty, where as boys are given plain names. Why? A plain name, according to the culture, will confuse evil spirits. In Greece, first-born sons are named after their paternal grandfather, first-born daughters after paternal grandmothers.
2) Put a Twist on a Common/Popular Name
Today we are constantly hearing about a couples "shipped" name. Bennifer. Brangelina. Captain Swan. What about doing that with popular names Jeffanie. Timberly. Kaylor. Maybe not for a historical, but that could easily work in a contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, or sci-fi. Or take a common name and remove a letter or two. Matthew becomes Athew. Melody becomes Elody or Melo.
3) The Meaning Behind the Name
Once you've figured out the cultural ancestry of your lead, look for names that fit that culture yet have a meaning that summarizes your lead's super-power, or maybe weakness.
4) Shorten for Familiarity
You can show familiarity or even tension by having one character use a shortened version of the lead's name.
5) Be Aware of Gender Norms
Most Americans consider Whitney a female name. So if your hero is named Whitney, quite fitting in a historical, your readers may be put off. That's not to say you can't have a female use a male name or vice versa. If it is a plot element, then go for it.
6) Search the Past for Real People
Census taken around the time of my story and in the locale (or close to it) are my favorite places to find names. You can also find cemetery records, birth or marriage certificates, or other historical documents. In my book MASTERPIECE MARRIAGE, my hero is named Zenus (rhymes with Venus) Dane. Usually I will mix up first and last names. With Zenus, I used the name of a man who wrote an article for Good Housekeeping magazine back in the 1880s.
Get creative with naming your leads!