A commenter on the last post (investment banker (??) Grant Munroe) mentioned using notebooks to collect potential character names and suggested a post on that topic. Hey, why not! Naming characters might be the most fun part of writing fiction.
One summer when I was a teenager I copied an entire Dictionary of Names into my notebook. It certainly ticked off my mother, who thought my time might be better spent studying for my SATs or maybe getting a job, and yeah, she was probably right. But I loved names, and still do. I love the way a name creates a person, but also how the person creates the name. I have a *wee* touch of synesthesia, if that's possible, and different letters and sounds create different color and sense impressions in me. My own name, Rhian, for example, makes me think of raw hamburger. Why? Well, R is red, for obvious reasons, and h is soft, light green on its own, but in combination with other letters whitish and streaky. The rest of the letters are just kind of squeezy, somehow. So: red, whitish and streaky, and squeezy = raw hamburger.
We named my oldest son "Owen," and the combination of the black O and the furry, gray W and the curled up "en" brings to mind a folded gray wool sweater. A son should be like a gray sweater, don't you think?
"Amy" makes me think of small pearl earrings, so Amy would be a good name for a small, well-dressed character -- or conversely, a large, messy character whose name would either stand in funny contrast to reality or would indicate a hidden side of her.
I named the character in my first novel "Naomi," because the letters are all black, blue, and purple, and the "Na" has a feeling of shyness, of turning away. My character has black hair and in an early draft wore blue dresses and black shoes, so it fit. Her last name was originally "Fry," which is a kind of funny name, I think, like the fried chicken I ate while writing the book. I can't remember why I changed it -- too funny? -- but eventually it became "Ash," which of course has connotations of fragility and death, and that worked.
Once I was driving to my in-laws in Pennsylvania and saw a funeral home called "Morninghoff and Sons." Wow, I liked the name "Morninghoff." I thought I could write a whole book about a person named Morninghoff. And her first name came to me out of the air: Mindy. Mindy Morninghoff. She's the person in the novel I'm working on now, and her name is the only thing I'm sure about.
Though I love bizarre names (my grandmother swore she had a friend named Ida Violet Bottom, and she used to chuckle whenever we passed her neighbor, P.Hart) and have spent hours looking for them in the phone book, I don't really use them in writing. The best character names, I think, are one degree away from bland. "Tim Miller" wouldn't make a great character name, because it's too forgettable, but "Tim Mix," a name in one of JRL's books, is good because it's just barely off-kilter, just as real names are. In fact, I think that one was straight out of the Missoula phone book. I could barely read The Crying of Lot 49 because the main character was named "Oedipa Maas" and it was too ridiculous, I didn't believe it.
What are your favorite methods of naming characters?