Names have changed a lot over the last 30+ years. Not only have the most popular names changed, but the amount of their popularity has changed as well.
When this week’s character was in preschool, the popular names were very popular and would have been worn by multiple students. I remember knowing kids who went by their first name and last initial. Jennifers, Jasons, Katies and Chrises had to share their names with one or more other students in their class. Having an unusual name was very unusual.
Today, the name landscape is very different. In my son’s pre-school, where there are 6 class rooms of 12 children, I have only noticed three names being repeated in the 3+ years he’s been there: Mason, Kaiden, and Caleb. In none of these cases were the students in the same class, or even the same age. Very few students there even have popular names, and some of the names have been surprising even to me.
This is the new normal, where children wear a wide variety of names and they think it’s odd and notable when “friends” share the same or even similar names (like Luke and Lucas, or Marcus and Marcos). Instead of there being Mason O. and Mason S., there is Big Mason (a tall boy who will soon be off to kindergarten) and Little Mason (a quiet toddler who often tries to play with the big boys). “Big” and “Little” because they are different ages and only see each other just before afternoon pickup, these boys may never be in a class with another student with their top 2 name.
It all makes my son, with his rare name, not stand out as odd—unlike when I wore my odd name to school many years ago. I felt different, outside, and strange among my peers, not only because of my name but probably in part due to it. He feels as normal and average as Alex and Chloe, because while they wear popular names they are the only people with those names he has ever met!
What does all of this rhapsodizing about preschooler names have to do with your characters? Well, while you are not likely to be naming many (if any) characters this young, you most likely are naming characters in a modern world (or a future world, or a fantasy world) where a wide range of names is possible and probable. So challenge yourself to give your characters a wide range of names. There is no reason why you should have characters named Stephen and Stephanie, when you could have characters named Zaimen and Serenity.