There are several things you should consider before choosing the name your character will be known by.
One of the first things you should consider is the time or era in which your story takes place. Say your story or novel takes place in 1925. The five most popular names for boys in 1925 were Robert, John, William, James, and Charles; for girls the most popular picks were Mary, Dorothy, Betty, Helen, and Margaret. Move up to the year 2009. The five most popular picks for boys were Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, and William; Isabella, Emma, Olivia, Sophia, and Ava were the most popular choices for girls.
Names come and go in popularity. As you can see from the examples above, William was one of the 5 most popular names in both 1925 and 2009. Depending on your character and his or her personality, you need to decide if he or she needs a name that was in vogue or an unusual name. Simply do an internet search on the most popular names in any given year to find out what names were “in” during the time your story takes place or the year your character would have been born.
If your character’s parents are involved in the story in any way (even if just by being mentioned), take into consideration what type of name they would have chosen. Are they conservative or liberal? Are they musicians or artists? Were they part of the hippy generation?
Try to choose a name that doesn’t look scary, is easy to pronounce, and doesn’t cause one to stammer and stutter trying to pronounce it. Your story will have more than one character. In order for your reader to be able to keep the characters names straight, you need to avoid choosing names that do the following:
1) rhyme – names such as Larry, Mary, Carrie, Barry
2) begin with the same letter – Terence, Tommy, Trevor, Tyler
3) sound alike or are similar – Melinda & Melissa, Donald & Ronald
4) names that end the same way – Sally, Kelly, Dotty, Betty
5) have the same number of syllables – Tom, Ron, Ann, Steve
Do you feel that the name suits your character? Are you comfortable with the name? Bertha was a popular name for girls at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. My grandmother, who was born in 1901 was given this name. I have always associated the name Bertha with grandmothers and elderly women. For this reason, it is highly doubtful that I would give the character of a young athlete the name Bertha. However, the name means “bright” and is German in origin, so if my character was a bright and vivacious young German girl, the name would be appropriate. Remember, if you aren’t happy with the name you choose for your character, nor are you comfortable with it, chances are your readers won’t be happy with it either.
Make use of the many baby name directories on the internet and choose names because of what they mean, as well as by how they sound and how easily they roll off of your tongue. You want the name to be memorable. Unless you are writing a romance novel, you don’t want the name to be too exotic. Strippers and soap opera characters (and sometimes the children of rock stars) have exotic names, not regular people.
Great names for science fiction and fantasy novels can be found when you look back through ancient mythological names. Or you can take 2 names and combine them to make a more unusual name. For example, you could combine Michelle and Tamara to make Tamichella.
Be careful if you choose a famous name, such as Elvis or Madonna. Does your character outshine the more famous counterparts of his or her name? Will he or she keep the modern bearer of the famous name from coming to mind each time his or her name is read? Chances are, your reader will always be thinking of the person who made that name famous instead of what your character.
Besides searching baby name sites, phone directories are also a great place to find what names are in use now. Pick up your Bible and read. Many of the names down through the years that have been popular were taken from it. Maybe you can find another name that will become just as popular because of the story you are writing.