A character’s name can tell the reader a great deal about them. Their background, the era they were born and even what they think about their name by how they may or may not shorten it. A character’s name is important as it will be the reader’s first inkling of what that character might be like. A name can be far more than just something you call your character.
If you have written a story set in a particular era you need to make certain the name existed then and if it was in use in the area your character was born. The internet can be used to search for names popular in that particular year and country. There will of course be exceptions such as names chosen due to cultural and family reasons.
Different genres tend to have different types of names. Contemporary novels have names suited to modern times, historical novels have names that fit the era they are based in. Fantasy novels often have names that are made up or unusual, as do sci-fi novels. Even though both fantasy and sci-fi often have created names, they tend to use different styles.
When you settle on a name it’s always good to research the name to make certain there are no negative associations for that name. For instance that it doesn’t belong to a serial killer or it hasn’t changed its meaning due to modern slang.
If your character is from a particular culture or economic background make sure the name you’ve chosen reflects this. A character’s name should also reflect the parents’ interests. For instance a parent who follows the lives of celebrities is likely to name their children after favourite celebrities. Or a sports fanatic might name their child after their favourite team.
What does your character think of their name? How does it define or change who they are? Do they go by a nickname or prefer not to have their name shortened? Is it the type of name that would have caused them to be teased as a child? Or is it a name that reminds them of the relative they were named for and currently mourn?
Characters may go by a nickname rather than the name they were given at birth. This can show something about the character’s behaviour, physical attributes or even the person who gave them the nickname. How they react to the nickname also shows a lot about the character. Do they introduce themselves by their nickname? Is it one they hate? A name they’re trying to live down? Is there a story behind them gaining their nickname?