I've probably talked about naming characters before. If I have, it would have been a long time ago so I'm doing it again. Character names are important. To me. Maybe to you. I've spent days trying to come up with the right name for a character because I've needed it to 'feel right'. I need the name to feel like him/her. And sometimes I've had a character come to me fully formed, name and all.
As a reader, I notice names. I laugh at some. I love others. I think 'what was this author thinking?' about a few, which is probably naughty of me, but hey. I can't help it. For instance, I've noticed that a lot of YA heroines seem to be called Grace. Shiver, Entangled, Fallen Grace, these are just a few. I have no less than five novels on my bookshelf right now with a Grace.
(This is also my sister-in-law's name, so when I recently changed my YA protagonist's name and Grace suggested Grace, the first thing I said was 'ohmyGod do you have any idea how many people are already called Grace, Grace?')
So how to name a character? I don't know. I don't think there are rules and there are certainly exceptions to every 'guideline'. But there are certain things you can avoid/lean toward. Here's my take-
Silly is OK
Here's where the 'Naming Your Character' not-quite-a-rulebook differs from the 'Naming Your Baby' rulebook. You'd never want to name your child something other people will laugh at (Fifi Trixiebell? Really?). But sometimes you want your readers to giggle a little at a character's name. So silly is okay.
Avoid long, difficult names
To give you an example, I'll use my own (lest I use something else and offend someone!). Sangu is short for Sangamitra. There. I've admitted it. My personal albatross.
Now Sangamitra, alas, will just not fly. It's four syllables long. It's unfamiliar. Sure, it's memorable, assuming you can actually commit all ten-bloody-letters to memory in the first place. But try to imagine writing a scene in which another character cries desperately to your protagonist: NO, SANGAMITRA, DON'T. SANGA - DAMN YOU, WHY DON'T YOU HAVE A NAME I CAN SHOUT QUICKER? Imagine that translated to the big screen. Eeek.
I'm sure there are plenty of long, unfamiliar names out there. I'm sure they're even lovely, popular character names. But it's hit and miss. And when you want your characters to trip instantly to your readers' thoughts, you don't want a name they'll stumble over.
Avoid anything too literary
I don't mean names like Dashwood and Bennet and Lizzie and Juliet. These are popular names. Dashwood is probably pushing it, though, because it's uncommon in the real world today and it definitely suggests Jane Austen to anyone who hears it. Other names to avoid: Sherlock. Shakespeare. You don't want to choose something so instantly recognizable. If you happen to have a clever character named Sherlock, even if you claim it's meant to be homage/a parody/a modern retelling, people might think you're trying too hard.
Another concern: your readers will certainly remember the name, but when they think of 'Sherlock', your character's not going to be the one that pops straight into their heads. Better not to wither away in Holmes's shadow.
Please, no puns
Unless you're writing an out-and-out farce/comedy/parody/who knows what, for the love of mercy steer clear of Eggen Mermalayde, Justin Case and Ben Dover. Please.
And in the end, try to remember it's not everything
Honestly. No matter what I or anyone else says, names are not everything. Your character is. Who she is. What he's like. Whether readers love or love to hate him. Those things matter more.
On the advice of my agent and editor, I recently changed my narrator and protagonist's name from Echo to Eva. At first I thought this would mean the end of the world as I knew it. Disaster. Apocalypse. How could she still be the same without the same name?
Turns out, she is the same. Sure, I miss Echo sometimes, but I love the name Eva (that's pronounced E-va, by the way, not A-va. I'm downright Nazi-ish on that point.) Maybe she's so firmly imprinted in my head that nothing could change her now. Or maybe I got lucky. But it did help me realize that names are not the beginning and end of a character.
Writers, how do you name your characters? Are names important to you? And those of you who aren't writers, what about you? As a reader, does a name matter? What are the funniest/weirdest/best names you've come across?