In a contemporary, realistic novel your names need to be contemporary and realistic. That is not to say they should be typical names for the character’s age and background, but that the name should have been in use at the time the character was “born” and should read like a person of that age. How old are Olivia, Jessica, and Ethyl? You should have an instinctive feel—I know I do!
Beyond the realism of the name, however, it should also say something about the character. If you are naming a FUN and ALURING character, like I did this week, would you choose Malia or Megan? Aja or Allison? What do you imagine a girl named Kati would be like, versus a girl named Katherine?
Naming, like writing, is not a science. Naming is an art. As a writer you need to take your knowledge of the world and your instincts and use them together to find the perfect name for your character. You have to use the same creative tools you use for your writing to discover the perfect name. Think about the character’s personality, and chose one or two words that best define how you want that character to be viewed by the reader, then visualize the character and think about the names that may suit her.
Is your bad girl a Marian? Could she be an Anna? Now think about who you think Marian or Anna would be. Is that the girl you see seducing your MMC into drugs and violence? Is Marian ALURING enough that he would follow her into a store he knows she will steal from? Is Anna the FUN girl that would get a straight edge guy try drugs? Could you or, better yet, could most readers believe that Marian or Anna is the bad girl who tempts Sam?
Or do you think the names Malia and Aja better describe the temptress that keeps our protagonist hooked until the final bloody conclusion?
You probably don’t want a name that will give the plot away completely, like Eve or Delilah, but you do want a name that makes the reader see the picture of her as FUN and ALURING without the narrator having to use a thousand words to draw that picture.