There have been some great posts about how to name characters. I like this one, by Nadia Jones guesting on Lisa Amowitz's blog.
Recently, I had to choose names for two characters in my next WIP, both of whom are Irish and younger than me. I don't know many people younger than me. With older characters, I can look at people I know and say 'Hmmm. I know lots of Lauras, Jennys and Sarahs in their early 30s. They're probably safe names to use for that age group - and seemingly the trend then was for nice, modern, simple, easy to spell names, so if I call a character Emmaline or Ada or Fylycyty, I may need to explain myself just a bit.'
Equally, a lot of simple, older names are currently back in fashion in Ireland - Rose, Molly, Emma, Eva. Even Ellen is making a comeback, which I never thought I'd see! I love those names, but if I chose one for a character born in 1996, it wouldn't ring true, because that trend hadn't taken hold then.
I know very few young folk born around 1996, being a curmudgeon at heart. So I consulted one (he was very helpful), and Googled a lot, and read census reports, and thought about what names would suit my main characters. I wanted one of them to have a feminine name that shortened to a male name (Samantha, Roberta, that kind of thing) but very few were popular during the period when my character would have been born.
When naming a character, I find it helps to remember that a character's name is a) a product of the time when they were born, not when the book takes place, and b) chosen by their parents. One my characters would have loved to be called Dylan or Madison, but her parents would never have chosen that. If I had called her Dylan, it would have been a mistake - and it would have really messed up my characterisation of her parents, who are quite conventional Irish people and would never chose such an unusual name for a baby girl.
Choosing a name is not about the character - it is about their family.
That can set up some interesting conflicts - my wannabe-Dylan's character has been shaped by the fact she feels her personality is at odds with her name. She feels as though her name holds her back.
So talking of the role that parents play in naming our characters, how do you feel about the role your parents played in naming you? Do you like your name? Does anyone? :)