I completely disagree with the advice given in Olga Litowinsky’s Writing and Publishing Books for Children in the 1990s, which I bought at a junior high book fair in 1993. Ms. (Mrs.?) Litowinsky was an editor of JA/YA books for a long time, and some of the advice in the book is kind of dated today, like how she doesn’t recommend against sending an unsolicited manuscript to a publishing house. But anyway, she recommends naming your characters names that your peers are naming their kids. How is that going to make your characters stand out from the crowd if they have dime a dozen popular names? No one will ever forget a character with a name like Octavia, Ammiel, Zenobia, or Perseus, whereas there’s nothing to really distinguish a character with a name like Ashley, Jack, Emma, or Tyler. I was never of the school of thought that says a writer should use names that are common and popular instead of letting the creative juices flow and selecting truly memorable and lesser-used names.
There’s a difference between using names that are steadily popular classics, that could be found on a person of any era, like Peter, Sarah, Elizabeth, Katherine, James, William, Charlotte, or Benjamin, and using names that have only been on the charts recently, or that were languishing in the Top 500 or Top 1000 until they suddenly were deemed useable again, like Aidan, Jaden, Braden, Caden, Jalen, Emma, Madison for a girl, Heaven spelt backwards, Mackenzie for a girl, Caitlin, Kaylee, Kylie, Kaylin, Sophia, Ava, various misspellings of Michaela, Trinity, or Tyler. Trendy names date the bearer, and hence the story. Being a writer is like having the chance to name hundreds of people instead of only one’s future children. I also enjoy selecting middle names for my characters, since I’ve never belonged to the school of thought that thinks there are only about a dozen middle names for either sex. I’m so glad my parents gave me a thoughtful middle name instead of just shuffling Anne, Marie, Leigh, Lynn, Rose, Grace, Nicole, Elizabeth, Joy, Hope, Claire, Alexis, Jane, Jean, and Joan in a hat and drawing one.
I also hate when I see writers (of books, films, or tv shows) trying to predate naming trends, or giving their characters names that look and sound hideous. Yeah, I’ll believe a grown woman is named McKenzie, Madison, or Heaven spelt backwards! And kreatyv spylyngz are heinous enough when I see them in birth announcements, but to be used in a book, written by someone who supposedly loves language and the written word enough to create fictional worlds and people?
In the early years, I picked names I already knew, and also used a baby names pamphlet my mother had when she was pregnant with me. I haven’t seen that thing in years, though I got plenty of good names from it. However, I did find out, when I started getting more into onomastics in 2002, that a number of the so-called definitions given for those names were laughably incorrect, like saying Ora means “sea lover” (in what language?!). They also gave the definition “mal-treated” for Adicia, when it actually means “injustice,” after the Greek goddess of injustice. Some of the definitions given at the site 20,000 Names are also wrong, such as saying the Hebrew name Adara means “fire.” It actually means “noble.” Kalanit, the name I gave my spider plant, was listed as meaning “plant,” but it’s really Hebrew for “buttercup,” not just a generic plant. Kabbalarians also gave me a lot of great names, esp. foreign ones. I also enjoy Unusual, Unique, and Creative Names. Behind the Name is the reference I use mostly nowadays, since it’s pretty damn comprehensive, and also uses history and etymology instead of making up meanings. I’d love to see the so-called etymology behind the pretended “meaning” given for Nevaeh of “beautiful sparkly butterfly Slavic fairy princess.” It’s Heaven spelt backwards. It’s made up. It has no meaning.
Maybe it’s because I’m a writer that I got so into onomastics and couldn’t imagine just arbitrarily selecting any old names for future kids. I know which trends to avoid and which names are way too popular. I won’t be shocked to discover that my future kid is one of five Aidans, Emmas, Bradens, Avas, Liams, or McMadysyns in kindergarten. The same care should be given to naming a fictional creation. You should use a special, thoughtful name, not something you just chose because it seemed popular, trendy, or safe.