Character names are so important and coming up with names is a task that I can love or loath with equal measure. It seems that some characters arrive ready named mind whereas others are far more problematic, and I just can't seem to settle into the writing until I've got the right name.
Working in schools with children on their creative writing shows that they too have difficulties with the naming process, though they are often more than happy to settle with the first thing that comes into their heads. You can almost guarantee that the chosen name will be Bob. I try to get them to come up with something different, a bit more unusual perhaps... think about this character and what he/she/it is like. If there a better name than Bob? I just know that the next suggestion is going to be Bobby - but we don't leave it there.
I feel that some names have been used up now and I would find it difficult to have a character called Harry in either a picture book (Harry and The Dinosaurs) or in a longer book (Harry Potter).
In a series of books I wrote about robots I thought it would be good to give a few of the robot characters machine, tool or industrial sounding names so I had Crank, Ratchet, Buzzsaw, Pylon, Sparks. Ratchet had to be changed at the last minute as the name matched that of the lead character in the animated movie, Robots. I couldn't think of anything at first but the title of a song came to my rescue and I called him Al. When I came to create a strong female robot character I wanted a name that sounded strong, feminine and futuristic. I thought I was being quite clever calling her Avatar but did didn't feel quite so clever when a film of that name was released.
A series of books about a family living in the Ice Age needed, I felt, a title that was Flintstone like so I had fun mixing and matching words until I came up with The Mudcrusts. Whereas the Roborunners characters had names linked to machines and tools etc I wanted something more primitive for the Mudcrusts. Some of the characters were named after personal characteristics - Lowbrow Mudcrust has a prominent brow and Chief Hawknose predictably has a large hawk-like nose. Other characters had names that were linked closer to nature - two sisters are named Flora and Fauna and Lowbrow's wimpy younger son is named Bogweed.
In school I try and encourage children to create names for characters that they might not normally think of as being names. It's a fun thing to do, especially when you combine everyday words, and can result in some very interesting possibilities for characters - sometimes we find that a name comes before a character but lends itself to visualising what sort of character it is. In a book I'm working on at the moment I have a nasty little piece of work known as Simian Scrape - a bully of a boy who bares more than a passing resemblance to a monkey. The most problematic character name for this book was for the evil villain - a mad scientist like character called Melvin. I knew Melvin needed to have a more sinister name but I just couldn't quite get it right, and neither, it seemed could the character himself so I have a scene in which the character devises struggles to come up with a new name for himself, though much to his eternal disgust, Mother still insists on calling him Melvin.
As a child I remember complaining to my own mother at her choice of name for me. Why on earth did she have to call me Damian - especially with all the movies about the demon child of the same name that seemed to hound me throughout my school life. "It could have been worse," she told me. "We were going to call you Warren but changed our minds when my mum said you would get called Bunny."
I think I'll settle with my own name after all and just have fun creating more interesting names for my fictional characters.