I wish I could tell you I have this wonderful process by which I come up with just the right name for each character, but the truth is I don't.
Last names of my main characters are often decided on ethnicity and how the name sounds—strong, determined, etc. I own the Dictionary of Surnames by Basil Cottle, but I also use sites like Ancestry.com and this surname site: http://surnames.behindthename.com/.
First names are the hardest, because I believe this is how readers identify with my characters. I try to adhere to certain rules—don't use names that sound alike, don't make them too hard to pronounce, don't start two character names with the same letter—but obviously I trashed that third mandate when I named Ari and Andreas as my main characters. It wasn't deliberate. I knew Andreas's name from day one, but Arianna's name eluded me until I was working on the second manuscript. Until that time she'd been Samantha Calin, but the first name never seemed to fit. I wanted one that conveyed both her heritage and her personality.
Of course, I own a wonderful resource for first names, 100,000 Baby Names by Bruce Lansky, but when I decided the Samantha name had to go, I was vacationing in Florida and the book was at home on my bookshelf. So I did a lot of internet searches, and it's not as easy as you'd think. Most of the baby sites require a registration, which is time-consuming and floods your inbox with unwanted emails, or they're incomplete—one gives you names, another gives you meanings. (If you're stuck like I was, you might try this user-friendly site: http://www.ohbabynames.com/.)
In the end, I can't tell you where the name Arianna came from. It just popped into my head, and I knew it was right. Very scientific.
So what about the secondary characters? Their names often occur to me on the fly and without any research, often matching the character's role or personality. I think about what letters of the alphabet I haven't used for first names and run through possibilities in my head until something clicks. If I change my mind later, it's easy enough to use Find and Replace.
I have one character named after a former colleague because she asked to be in one of my books. I won 't be doing that again. The character always felt like she didn't belong in my paranormal world.
I just finished a new manuscript with elven characters. I wanted their names to be somewhat recognizable to readers yet with an Otherworld look and sound. After some experimenting, I took ordinary names and changed a letter or changed the order of letters with surprising and satisfactory results.
I guess that's what works for me--experiment, try out different names, see how they look and sound, and listen for the muse to perk up and say, "That's it!"
So, readers, do characters' names really make a difference to you?
I'd also love to hear how other writers do it. Do you have resources you swear by or tried and true methods?
Thanks for spending some time with me, and come back soon!