"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."William Shakespeare penned those words a long time ago for his play Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare was born in the sixteenth century. When he named his characters, he used names familiar to that time.
The popularity of given names changes. What's popular today was not in vogue twenty years ago. As a teacher of young children, I saw name trends come and go. There was one year when I had three little girls named Jennifer in my class!
When writing historicals, I roam around on the internet seeking names appropriate for the time period. There are some writers who roam through graveyards to find names for their characters, but the internet is quicker. Besides, I'm not really fond of walking through cemeteries.
There are several genealogy sites, which are helpful, but most of them charge a fee. https://familysearch.org does not charge a fee. It is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is an excellent resource.
Currently, I'm writing a romance set in the 18th century. I found the Connecticut State Library has an interesting list of nicknames for the eighteenth and nineteenth century at http://www.ctstatelibrary.org/node/2329
Another good blog post on male names for 1800 is at http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.com/2012/02/whats-in-name-top-fifty-male-names-in.html
There's a fun post on oddball names, too, at http://www.nancy.cc/2013/07/31/oddball-english-names-17th-18th-centuries/
For English names of the Renaissance era I found http://www.peiraeuspubliclibrary.com/names/renaissancenames/RenaissanceEnglishNames.html
Of course, there are plenty of names an author can borrow from literature. Take a look at http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/822841/unique-baby-names-from-classic-books
What would you name your historical characters?