In August 2008 I wrote:
Just found this marvelous website to help with naming characters. For years I've been using a paperback copy of 20,001 Names for Baby by Carol McD. Wallace. It's a great resource and gives variations of names, their ethnic origins, and meanings. However, one can never have too many good research tools.
So check out this website, and be sure to play with the "Generate a Name" tool. See what you might be called in a variety of cultures, including hillbilly and rapper! It's a hoot!
Another website that is useful for finding popular names of a particular time period is Most Popular Names, which gives the most popular boys' and girls' names for every decade beginning with the 1880s.
I like to give my characters nicknames, too, something that references their personalities and/or has a special meaning to a special person in their life. Someday, if I ever finish The Great American Novel (which is doubtful), you might meet Tank, Francie Babe, Peg (Sweet Girl), Vic, Peaches, and Bix, as well as their various offspring and offspring's offspring--Will, Will T (III), Will F (IV), Rosie, Button, and many others.
I've read that heroes and heroines should have names befitting their status---as should villains. Certainly I'd trust a Dumbledore over a Snape, a Potter over a Malfoy, and a Melanie over a Scarlett! In real life, however, people with very innocuous names can be either hero or villain--which, I think, helps to keep the suspense going
Whatever their names, characters must be crafted carefully. I get personally involved with mine, which makes killing them off (as I often do) something of a wrenching experience.
Ah, the freedom of a writer's life ... characters, plots, dialogue ... mine to command---with a little help from some good resources, of course!
Find 20,001 Names for Baby at Amazon.