Scarlett O'Hara, Huckleberry Finn, and Stephanie Plum all have something in common.
As do Boo Radley, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Hannibal Lector.
Ok, Captain Obvious, I know they are fictional character but beyond that the share something else as well. Their very names hint at their character. And that is what a character name should do if possible.
Let's say you have a protagonist that is the privileged son of a U.S. Senator. Go ahead name him John Smith. It might work, but he dang sure have some extraordinary characteristics or I'm gonna forget him as soon as I close your novel. And you as a writer are going to have to paint a much more vivid picture of him than you would had you named him Spencer Throckmorton.
Throckmorton sounds senatorial and aristocratic to me whereas a generic name like Smith conjured nothing.
Sometimes authors go over board. Depends on the type of book(seems like comedies, mysteries and detective books can get away with a bit of cartoonish names) but if you throw in an auto mechanic named Axle Wheelie and cop named Justice Law I'm not going to take your words very serious.
All I'm saying is make the name, fit the personality.
What's that you say? What about Harry Potter? He had a plain-jane name and look how memorable he was.
You are correct, but didn't J.K Rowling go to great pains to show us the very thing Harry wanted most was to be a normal boy. In his case the generic name played right into that set up. Who expects a young boy living under a staircase with a name like Harry Potter to be an entire society's lone hope of survival? Ms. Rowling did a great job of using names. Lupin, Nymphador Tonks, Sirius Black. Her names did an excellent job of giving the reader an image and a clue about each character.
I know a few writers who give no thought to naming a character. They grab the phone book and pick put a name with no more regard than to make certain it doesn't start with the same letter as one of their other characters. LAZY!
Think about it ponder your names. I'm not saying it has to be unorthodox. Sometimes a common name can conjure an image. Or so I think. Maybe I'm way off in this name thing. To find out let's try an experiment. I'm going to throw out a few names from my own stories. If you have time chime in with the briefest of things the name conjures. Age, occupation, physical attributes, demeanor, whatever comes to your mind. And don't cheat. Those of you who have read the work that the character is in do not respond. Some will be easier than other and not all or POV characters. Feel free to comment on one, or all, or none and simply tell me what you think about my name theory.
Hank Petty Zybeck