Naming characters is one of my great joys as a writer. Finding the right name can happen almost instinctively, though I enjoy deliberating about it as part of the character develoment process.
While your real-life name is something you inherit and have to live into, up to or out of, a fictional character's name is a tool for its creator to communicate something about the person. Juliet's contention that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" has not been borne out by the research. Names shape our perception. They form mental pictures for readers.
Here are some of the questions I ponder when deciding upon a character's name:
How old is the character? Does his name fit in as contemporary within his peer group or stand out as either old-timey or fashion-forward?
What ethnicity is the character? Does her name reflect it or suppress it?
To whom or to what is this character linked? Who is he most like (or unlike) in my fictional universe? What myths, stories, literature resonate with her story arc?
What do I want to communicate about the name-giver (parent, family of origin)?
What is the character's relationship to his name? Like it? Hate it? What nicknames does he choose for himself?
I'll address each of these questions individually in future posts.