Jay's Nanowrimo Word Count:
I talked about my predeliction for boys with girl names here, but a little while back, Fangs, Fur & Fey had a discussion about how the members of the board name their characters, and the comments section is chock full of good ideas.*
Also, I didn't talk about how I name my characters in that last post, just about how I want to name them.**
It's a pretty short tale, actually: my characters come with names.
In other words, when I start to get to know a main character, a name, or a set of possible names, just occurs to me. I don't go looking for alternatives until or unless there's a problem with the original name (see the aforementioned "girl name" controversy).
Last names are harder, but also, in a perverse way, easier, because you can just flip open a phone book and find a billion of them.***
Secondary characters take a little more work because I don't often know them very well when they first show up.**** Some of the time, they don't even need a name, they're just the girl in the blue shirt, or the tall kid, or whatever. When they start getting lines, though, they usually need names. And usually, that's when I start thinking about names, when the character starts talking. I do all the typical writer stuff to come up with names for the characters--baby name websites, census information, phone books, et cetera.
It's easier for me than it is for some writers, because my stories pretty much take place in the present. If you write historical fiction, you have to be careful that your names aren't anachronistic. And if you write science fiction, you might want names that reflect the whole world culture you've invented (usually involving apostrophes, in my limited experience). But when you write contemporary fiction, you can pretty much pick whatever names you already know about, if you want. The key thing is that the name reflect the character, no matter how minor--mean characters need mean names, nice characters need nice names. It's not as simple at that, of course, because, for example, "Mike" to me is a mean name, but to you it might be a nice name depending on your personal experience with "Mikes," I suppose.
So, really, there's not much else to say. I pick names out of the ether when characters arise. I wish I could be more helpful, but that's all I got.
* Movie credits! Why didn't I think of that!
** GIRL NAMES FOR ALL BOYS!
*** Think of how hard this job will be when phone books aren't published anymore. Don't go away Yellow Pages--I need you as a resource!
**** True story: in the TNP I have a scene where the main character goes to a party with a bunch of jocks (he is not a jock. By the way, what's the name for a bunch of jocks together? A team of jocks? A huddle of jocks? A jostle of jocks?) and has a conversation in the kitchen, and the first time I wrote that scene it looked like this:
JOCK 1: blah blah blah?
Main Character: (responds)
JOCK 2: blah blah blah (laughs)
Main Character: (laughs)
JOCK 1: But seriously, dude, blah blah blah?
Yes, they were JOCK 1 and JOCK2. I know. I'd have to go back to the draft and look, but I'm pretty sure that JOCK 2 still doesn't have a name.