Here's a little game to play. Get out a sheet of paper (or open Word, or whatever), and down the side, number lines 1 to 17.
Now on each line, list 3 or 4 people from that century. So for line number 1, list 3 people who lived anywhere within 100AD to 199AD. (Yes, I know the 100s are the 2nd century; I'm avoiding ordinals to eliminate confusion) For line 15, list anyone who lived during the 1500s, & etc. Do this for all 17 lines.
I did this. Here are my observations. If you want to give it a try, stop reading and play the game now!
Some centuries are really hard! Some are fairly easy. I deliberately started at 1 because the century 0-99 is way too easy. Anyone with even a slight knowledge of the Bible or the Roman Empire can whip off lots of names. It gets trickier from 100AD onwards. I stopped at 1799 because likewise, the period 1800 to the present is too recent to be a challenge.
I found with the tricky centuries that once I got one famous person located, I could pick off others. So for example I happen to know Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day, 800AD. That instantly gave me the Sultan Haroun al-Rashid, who I know was his contemporary, and Roland his knight, of Song of Roland fame, and Carca, who withstood a siege from Charlemagne and gave her name to Carcasonne.
Have a look at your list. I'd be willing to bet almost every name you wrote falls into one of these groups:
Is a national leader.
Is an artist.
Is a scientist.
Is a religious figure.
Is a military commander.
That's it! If you're a chartered accountant, you're fresh out of luck in the fame stakes. And for all but the popular centuries, such as the Renaissance, it's a struggle to recall more then a few names.
This makes me wonder who a thousand years from now will be remembered from the 20th century. You might think lots and lots, because so much happened; but much happens in every century, and this little exercise shows the number of people destined for immortality is probably not more than a handful.
Here are my own suggestions for 20th century immortality. I've cut ruthlessly, keeping in mind the lesson of trying to name people from a thousand years ago.
Einstein. The quintessential scientist.
Hitler. An evil man, but he put his stamp on the century like no other political leader.
Lennon & McCartney. Easily the greatest artists, or if you don't like greatest, then best known.
Who do you think will be remembered from last century?