For my new book, Crow's Rest, the main character's name jumped out at me right away: Avery Cash. But arriving at names for, not one but two, love interests was a little harder.
I settled on Daniel as the perfect boy-next-door name, and Lonan for the corbin (a type of pooka that usually crosses into our world by inhabiting crows) since it's Irish for "little blackbird". And because I like the way it sounds.
Pre-internet, I relied on a handful of books for finding character names:
Dictionary of First Names by Alfred Kolatch (though any of the baby naming books will usually do)
The Guiness Book of Names by Leslie Dunking (a good source on unusual and celebrity names)
The Writer's Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook (arranged by nationality or origin)
Now you can search online databases for the meanings of names, their origins, and use another tool that's useful to writers--the ability to check for the most popular names in a given year.
So if you know when your character was born, you can check for the most popular name and use it accordingly. Do you want an "everyman" name? Use one of the top 15. Want to show how unique your character is? Use one that falls way down on the list, or doesn't appear at all. Make one up.
And lastly, my favorite resource is an older (1984) numerology book called You Are Your First Name by Ellin Dodge. Using the "science of numerology," the author has created personality profiles for each name.
You'll notice that I put the "skeptical quotes" around science of numerology above, but there have been times where this book has been eerily accurate about real people I've met.
Here's a little of what it says about Angelica, so you can judge for yourself:
Ability to incorporate orderly system, levelheaded practical analysis, and formal conventions into career. Deals in facts, and employs gifted intuition. Extreme desire for perfection in self and others.
But just like Adrian Monk says, that desire for perfection is "A gift. And a curse. A gift."
So how do you come up with names for your characters? Researching the perfect match of meaning and personality traits? Just what sounds good?