Fewer things put me off to a book, TV show, or movie, even from just reading a blurb or episode synopsis, than seeing an obviously predated naming trend. Sure, there are always outliers in every generation (for example, names like Miranda, Jason, Amanda, and Justin existed long before they became trendy in the last third of the 20th century), but when more than a few of your characters have those names, or the one anachronistic name is more than just an outlier, you really haven’t done your research.
Two big examples I always think of are Kayla and Caitlin. Sure, I can easily picture an older Irishwoman named Caitlin (though the traditional pronunciation is something like Cot-leen or Coyt-leen, not Kate-lynn), or perhaps an older woman named after Caitlin Thomas (Dylan’s wife) or an older woman whose parents were passionate Hibernophiles. It really is a perfectly lovely name, even if it’s not my own personal style.
However, the name Caitlin (with the original spelling) didn’t crack the Top 1000 in the U.S. till 1976. The endless spelling variants, like Katelyn, Caitlyn, Kaitlyn, and Kaitlin, didn’t start cracking the Top 1000 till a bit later. So, yes, unless your character meets one of the three aforementioned conditions, I’m going to call BS, particularly if you’re using a kreatyv spylyng. And while we’re on this subject, I think it’s ridiculous for a certain person in a notorious famewhore family to have chosen a kreatyv spylyng of that name as his new name. Nope, I can’t believe a 65-year-old woman would be named Caitlyn. #sorrynotsorry
And while we’re on this subject, if you’re transitioning, you should certainly choose a new name you love and which feels like your authentic self, but it shouldn’t be something outlandish and kreatyvleigh spelt. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck to the common/popular names of your generation, but it doesn’t mean gravitating towards a name which smacks of Gen Y or the Millennials. It’ll sound like an obvious fake name, just like no one believes porn stars and strippers really have names like Cherry, Destiny, Diamond, Chyna, and Nevaeh-it’s-Heaven-spelt-backwards-TEEHEEHEE!
Kayla/Kaila likewise existed long before it was given to a soap opera character in 1982. It’s a real Yiddish name, though again, not my style. So, again, unless your character is Jewish, her parents had an affinity for Yiddish names, or some similar plausible reason, I won’t hesitate to call BS on a fictional Kayla born before 1982.
It’s obvious writers are going by current Top 100 charts when we compare the charts against the year a character débuted. Yeah, what a shock so many adult or teen characters suddenly had names like Jennifer, Kimberly, Amber, Tiffany, Skye, Madison, Mackenzie, Taylor, and Stephanie around the same time those names began getting popular! What’s so wrong with using them where they feel plausible, on newborn babies and small children?
No, I can’t believe the female lead in your historical novel is named Taylor or Mikayla. Yes, I call BS on your college-aged male romantic lead having a name like Kayden or Braedon. No, I can’t believe the teen girl in your contemporary novel is named Addison or Madison. Yes, even though names like Emma and Liam are of rather old vintage, I’m going to assume you’re only using them because you can’t think outside of current Top 100 names, particularly if most of your other characters’ names are similarly predated or there’s no special reason given for them having outlier names.
And yes, I’m sure someone may claim s/he knew a Caitlin or Caden born before the jump in popularity. We all know outliers. However, that doesn’t mean that one exception you knew Magickally means it’s totally accurate for so many characters to have names that either didn’t exist or were barely heard of when they would’ve been born. Sometimes you have to suck it up and change a character’s name if you want people to take you seriously. I’d have the same comments about, e.g., a contemporary YA gut-loaded with Boomer names like Debbie, Linda, Susan, Patricia, Nancy, and Janet.
You really can never go wrong with names that aren’t tied to one particular era, or which have been most popular in a certain era but have still been steadily used over the ages. When in doubt, check the charts!