Your character's name is one of the most important decisions you have to make when writing a story. There are tons of resources for naming your characters (baby name websites being my personal favorite) but there are also many things you should take into consideration. Here are some do's and don'ts in no particular order.
Similar names for twins
I read an article on names recently that expressly forbid the use of matching or similar twin names because it was "overdone". While yes, naming your twins Jayden and Kayden can be a bit tacky sounding, the truth is that people do it. A lot. I've personally met a pair of identical twins named Kirsten and Kristen. Do I think their parents are crazy? A little, but when you're choosing names for your twins, it's hard not to look for rhyming or alliteration. For writers, my only suggestion is to make them visually different enough that readers can tell them apart. Jace and Jackson are easy twin names to read, but not so much for Daniel and Danielle.
Damian, Darian, Darius, Damon, etc.
I cannot even begin to explain how many teen novels I've read where the handsome hunk is named Damian or some variation thereof. If you look this name up in the dictionary, I'm willing to bet the definition will be "tall, dark, and handsome." Moral of this story? It's been done... to death.
Storytime! When I was young, I was obsessed with the letter K. I thought it sounded so cool! So cool, in fact, that my entire group of friends had nicknames that started with the letter: Kit, Kaya, Kayo, Kiako, Kiki, Ky, Kili, Kenny, etc. There was a whole pack of us. Moving on to my story writing, I named all of my characters with a K name. (Hint: for those who know of my story, Kitaru and Kyouya are the remaining K's, but Maya used to be Kaiko and Leina used to be Kayano). I'm sure after reading this small paragraph, you're already sick of the letter! Keep in mind that your readers might feel the same way if you litter your story with very similar names or names that all start with the same letter. Kay? ;D
This one is important! In most of the "how to name your character" guides I've read, it always suggests using a meaning that describes your character's personality or something about them. I could not disagree more! Please try to remember that names generally come from our parents. When you are a gross wrinkly squirmy pink baby, they're not going to know if you're going to grow up to be a "valiant warrior" or a "beautiful dancer". Whatever they name you, you will grow into it. Instead of using your character's name like a label, just give them a name and let them define it. Worry about making your character memorable enough that the meaning doesn't matter. (Ex. The name Hermione means "travel". Okay, whatever. You know darn well who she is though!)
Stormy Night and Jynx Nightshade
Just let those names sink in for a minute. Okay. Fairly simple concept, but don't define your character's ever present bad mood with an equally sulky name. Remember, they were born with that name! Stormy Night very well could have turned into a bubbly blonde cheerleader- now wouldn't that be awkward! An exception would be if your character nicknamed their self something like this (I know that having a "goth name" was popular for a while) but don't forget to mention it's a nickname!
Alyxzander, Keighleigh, Alyzzabeth, Maddisynne, Lyndseigh
Please, just don't. If writers put less time into making the spelling of their character's name unique and more time into making their character memorable, the quality of writing would skyrocket. I think it's safe to say that this is a good tip for actually naming your children too- who wants to put up with a lifetime of "That's Ashley, spelled A-s-h-l-l-y-e-i-g-h"? Also keep in mind that if a reader can't pronounce the name, they'll probably just wing it. I read a story with a character named Schuyler and spent the whole series calling her "shoe-lee-ur". Who knew that it's pronounced "Skyler"?
I see a lot of catgirls named Neko or Koneko (Cat or Kitten in Japanese) and a LOT of fox characters named "Kitsune" (Fox) or Bunny loving characters named "Usagi" (Bunny). While these names are cute, try to remember that giving your character one of these names is adding them to a very long list of characters with the same qualities and names. If you're going to use a Japanese name, I'd suggest researching actual Japanese names and not just Japanese words that describe your character...
Misato vs. Jon
Always keep in mind where your character (and sometimes their parents) are from. Names in the USA vary greatly due to things like adoption from other countries and parents wanting American names for their children (like my adopted Chinese cousin, Megan). However if you have a Mexican named Bob and a British lad named Javier, you might be doing something wrong. Figure out where your story takes place and try to read a list of popular names from that country just to get a feel for what kind of names might fit.
Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV
While this is a toned down example, your character really doesn't need fifteen middle names. If your character is somebody epic and amazing like Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, perhaps the extra names are necessary. However if your character is just a simple high school girl or a peasant from long ago, their name will probably be as simple as they are.
Name Trends in Different Times
These are just a few tips that I picked up from all of my reading. When people started moving to America a long time ago, many of them didn't have last names or family names. Because of this, they often chose one related to their profession. Smith for blacksmiths, Carter for people who transported things in carts- you see where I'm going with this. Also, many last names come from parents, such as Thompson (Thom's Son) or Jackson (Jackson). This does not seem to be as common in daughters, as the closest I could find was the last name of a famous singer, Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Her name is Icelandic and her last name means daughter of Guðmundur. Furthermore, some people were given last names as they earned them, as seen in the story Eragon when his name evolves from Eragon Bromson to Eragon Shadeslayer after he killed a Shade. All of these scenerios are far more likely if you're writing a fantasy story that takes place in a different or old world. You won't find many Alice SwordSwingers in a modern day classroom. (but you might find an Alice Thompson!)
Bonus- How I name my characters
I have a few different methods for naming characters. I usually try one and move on to the next if it doesn't work.
- The easy one- sometimes a name will just pop into my head. This is handy but sometimes it leads to strange names. (Ex. Clover from Demonika) The best part about this, though, is if you think about a name for a character, usually the first thing that pops into your head sticks and even if you spend the next day searching for a name, you'll always come back to that one. That's when you know it's stuck.
- I have a file in my computer called "Namebase". Whenever I hear a name I like while I'm out and about or browsing the internet, I'll just jot it down in there. It's nice to have a handy list of names that I already know I like to look through when I'm stuck on a nameless character.
- Babyname websites. My suggestions for these are a) Pick a letter before you even start or you'll notice that all of your characters' names start with A, B or C. Since these lists are most often alphabetized, those are the first ones that will catch your interest. b) After you choose a letter, start on page two or three of that letter. Everyone's going to pick a name on the first few pages because those are the first ones they see. Go see what the later pages have to offer! Bonus tip: while you're browsing, if you see a name that you like but it doesn't really fit your character, don't forget to add it to your namebase!