I guess the answer to that question depends on the name. When I’m creating a character, sometimes the perfect name simply bursts into my mind with ease. It just feels right. It fits the personality perfectly. Other times it takes some work. Okay, a LOT of work. To help, I have a baby name website bookmarked. I’ve also been known to look through my high school yearbook, the white pages, and even the spines on the reference books beside my desk for inspiration.
I try not to be too literal with the character names. In my DRAMA! series, “Hope” doesn’t represent “Hope.” Although the other characters do like to have fun inserting her name into various hope-related cliches (for example, they might joke about how she "floats" or "springs eternal"). You might be surprised by the number of cliches out there that incorporate the word “Hope.” Or you might not.
The most fun I’ve had with names was when I wrote a couple books based on the ALIAS TV show. In them, I could exaggerate the main character’s aliases in much the way the series exaggerated her wardrobe. I couldn’t go as far as, say, a Bond Girl with the name, but I was able to create an exotic moniker like Lilia Von Malkin, which I built by taking a friend’s name and adding a little flair.
In LOVE, HOLLYWOOD STYLE I named my characters in honor of my favorite Romantic Comedy of all time: THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. I figured it fit with the Hollywood theme. If you have not seen this classic film, I URGE you to do so. Tracy is named for Katharine Hepburn’s Tracy Lord. Connor comes from Jimmy Stewart’s Macaulay Connor. Liz is from Ruth Hussey’s Elizabeth Imbry. And Dex is in honor of Cary Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven ... arguably the BEST name in film history. (Mind you, they all have different last names so it's an homage and not a rip off.)
So, to my fellow writers—both published and unpublished—I ask: What's in your characters' names?