So - you have a character in your book, and they have to have a name. First names are difficult enough. I have two baby's names books in my study, both very well thumbed, one in English, one in German. Sometimes a name attaches itself to a character at once, like Jenny's name in Saving Rafael - and Rafael's - or sometimes I change it several times before I find the one that's right.
In Saving Rafael, I called the horrible Nazi family next door some name I've forgotten, then decided that wasn't right, so I flicked through various German books I possess and found the name Mingers. I fell about laughing and decided this was the one. Young and older readers have appreciated the joke, so I am vindicated. The Gestapo man who interrogates Jenny is called Brenner, which means 'burner,' because I felt this gave a sense of someone who causes pain. Germans would get that more than English-speaking readers, but Mingers is a pun that will be lost in the German version (Nicht Ohne Dich, Boje Verlag, out now). Jenny's family name is Friedemann which means 'peace man' - I felt an appropriate name for a German Quaker and his family.
Sometimes place names are good for a character - like the inadequate missionary in The Mountain of Immoderate Desires. On a visit to the White Horse of Uffington, I saw the name of a village, Fawler, and thought, yes, that's right for the man, since he collapses under pressure. Sometimes I just take names off the spines of books in my study..but in my novel of the English witchhunt, Malefice, I took all the names of characters from the 17th century Parish Records in Waltham St Lawrence, the village on which I based my fictional Whitchurch St Leonard.
Graham Greene used very common names for his characters, for fear of being sued - Brown, Grey, Smith, etc… and I have sometimes invented German names and do a websearch on them to see if they come up. If they do, I have to invent again. You can sue for libel on behalf of the dead in Germany.. People who know about English poetry will comprehend why the vile concentration camp guard in Saving Rafael is called Grendel. It's not a German name.
For other, less sensitive characters' names, I have harvested them from the plates of apartment blocks in Germany, which is what I'm doing on the picture here.
On the other hand, reality does perpetrate jokes that one would hesitate to put into fiction. Opposite the orthodontist I used to go to in Mansfield Road in Nottingham was a greengrocer's called Flower, and a florist called Onion. I think they were just one house away from each other. And would an author, apart from a comic one, name the three hairdressers in a town Sharp, Blunt, and Brittle? That was in Kendal, in the 50s and 60s. My husband had two risk assessment colleagues called Dr Hope and Dr Luck. One could go on forever, and the correspondance column of the Guardian recently did..
How do other people decide on characters' names?