You don't want a name that's too common and forgettable. Neither do you want a name that's too long, too unpronounceable, or just too twee.
Your supporting cast is important as well. You shouldn't have too many names beginning with the same letter, and definitely keep away from rhyming names unless you have cutesie-tootsie twins in your story.
Which begs the question: how do you dream up good names for your characters? We asked several of our editors how they do it.
Helen: My favorite resource book for naming characters is A World of Baby Names by Teresa Norman. Each of the 31 chapters starts off with an introduction to that country's use of names. For example, the intro to "African Names" includes information like, "A person's name is considered to be his most valuable possession, for it is the only thing that can survive death... Names such as the female Komuko (this one will not die) and the male Zimoko (thank you) reflect the sad fact of high infant mortality and the parents' fervent hope that their child will survive." With over 30,000 names, arranged by country, it's a great place to not only choose a name that would fit a character's ancestry, but also to find the meaning and pronunciation of each name.
Patricia: I tend to use street names from towns I'm not writing about. Very useful as many streets are named after people. When naming the bad guys, I try to use made-up names that yield no results when I do a Google search.
Maryann: I use the phone book for last names and books of saints names for first names. Get some unusual names that way. :-)
Linda: Like Helen said, I peruse lists of baby names. Also, sometimes a name pops into my mind while I'm developing a character sketch. The Cherokee/Irish attorney in my new book is Aidan Wolf. (His brother, mentioned only once in this one but a larger character in the next of the series, is Declan.) The first names happen to be a favorites, and the last name came from an Internet search of common Cherokee surnames.
And here's my favorite name generator, which yields a daily list of first and last name combinations:
What about you? What are your favorite name sources including online generators?
Dani Greer is currently judging 35 essays for an online writing contest, learning how to record a double-ender (don't ask) and killing as many grasshoppers in any given day as is humanly possible in 95-degree heat. Oh, and she's thinking about writing a graphic novel called Queen of Socks.