This is a post I've been thinking about for awhile, but when I found a thread about the subject on one of the EMCSA-related forums (Sorry, I can't find it again now and don't remember which forum it was on), I decided to hold off since people were already discussing it. I skimmed the thread a little but didn't read it carefully, so I might or might not repeat some of what's in there, but I guess it doesn't matter since all of you won't have read that thread anyway.
So. Onward. Every author has their own method for naming their characters. Some pull names out of the air, some go for the exotic, some go for the symbolic, and some name them after people they love or hate. Me, I try for realistic.
I don't know if I succeed (and I guess I probably don't, always), but this is how I play it: If I'm writing fantasy, I try to make up names that don't "get in the way." I don't want them to be so exotic that the reader can't get past them easily enough to just enjoy the story.
On the other hand, if I'm writing a story a story set on present-day or near-future earth, I make up names that sound almost, but not quite, the ones you hear every day. I try for a mix of nationalities and use sources like this Wikipedia section to find common surnames, and then I ignore the most common ones in favor the fairly common ones. To my way of thinking, a surname like "Smith" is so common that it does get in the way of the story; it leaves the reader wondering why the author didn't choose something a little less obvious. Now, I know Stephen King did that on purpose with The Dead Zone, naming his protagonist "Johnny Smith" to show just what an everyman Johnny was. The thing is, I didn't think it worked. Sure, King is a hugely successful celebrity author and I don't have a single published title to my name, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
But why am I going on about all this now? In part, it's so I can offer you another teaser on my next story (to be called "Sleepwalkers."). It's set about a hundred years in the future, in an empire composed of the entirety of North and South America plus Greenland, so I've tried to seriously consider the names that would be common in a population like that. I figure that mixing Canadians with Americans would lead to a slight uptick in the number of French names, while the mixing of all of South America with North America would lead to a bigger uptick in Spanish names - especially in Phoenix, where my story begins. Then I factored in the shifting popularity of first names over time and went for slightly exotic...in a few cases.
I don't know how obvious these thought processes will be to you when you read "Sleepwalkers," so that's part of why I'm making this post. I've put a hell of a lot of work into the backstory, doing real world building (I hope), and I want to brag a little. ;-) Expect more of these kinds of posts in the future.
In the meantime, and in no particular order, here are the names of a few characters who appear in "Sleepwalkers": Reynaldo Cruz, Angela Boyd, Vadim LeFebvre, Melora Boykin, Paul Medina, Shara Sullivan, Josue Valenzuela, Aimee Pender, Zane Hammond, Charlotte Moody and Marcus Choi