In real life, you're pretty much stuck with the name you've been given, without choice. But when you write, you have the power to make your character's name fit them. To choose the wrong sounding name could turn readers away, so there is a bit of pressure when it comes to nomenclature.
The most important names belong to the hero and heroine, of course. What do you want to say about those characters?
When I wrote my first book, I named the hero Jake. No reason, really. It just seemed to fit the strong, silent outside, vulnerable inside that I was going for.
I was informed that Jake is the most popular hero name in romance right now. I don't know if that's true, but if it is, it makes sense.
Jacob is a very popular name in real life, reaching its peak probably just a few years ago. Writers are influenced by the world around them, so the name's occurence in their lives probably have a lot to do with it's popularity.
It's also a short, staccato name. Jake. It's strong. It's easy to say and recognize by sight. It doesn't necessarily show depth of character, but lengthen it to Jacob, and you have a brooding side to the name as well.
You'll see classic names for heroes that are perhaps a little bit older, and spunky names for heroes that are on the younger side. This shows both their conservative or liberal nature (but not necessarily) and also mirrors the time period in which they would have been born.
There are names that seem soft that can say a lot about a character as well. Miles, for instance, shows a brainier side of a hero. Lucas, Mark, Peter...these could all be more studious rather than adventurous, and when they do take a turn for the spicy side of life, it's all the more compelling, as it seems to go against their nature.
So far, I've chosen typical last names, those I hope will be memorable enough to last for longer than a page, but not so common that 20 pages of a phone book is dedicated to them. That seems to be a safe way to go.
However, a friend of mine, and successful writer, Tatiana March once named her main character Conrad Ungarreti.
Is that not amazing? Probably my favorite character name in recent history.
Heroines follow the same rules as heroes, for name choices. More historical, regal names show a conservative nature. Popular names from the 80s represent a slightly aging woman, perhaps shy and unsure (think Jen, Melanie, Jessica). Spunkier names or unisex names work well for badass characters.
But, again, if you choose right, a classic name can make the opposite characterization really pop. In a manuscript I just read, the head of an assassination association was named Jane.
Side characters can be a lot of fun because their ages range from toddlers to seniors, and you can name according to time period. You can also give out more comical, less likely names, like Burt (for example). Others I've written are Warren, LJ, Kenny, Henry, Mitch...can you guess which are good guys and which are bad? Which are old or young? Probably. That's part of the fun, though.
Most importantly, when you choose a name, you can make the character fit it. But don't. If the name you chose in the beginning always seems to ring a bit off when you read through, change it. Click Find and Replace All. It's easy and you'll thank yourself.
And so many times, there shouldn't even be a difference. I'm working on a novel right now where the main character is Steve. I renamed him Frank five years ago. I have no idea why. As Frank, the character just doesn't make sense to me. When I go back to work on it (eventually...this is one of those shelfers) he'll go back to Steve. Because that's his name.
What character names are you in love with, and why?