Writing as a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was to name characters using the handy baby name bible passed on to me by my cousin. I loved looking up what a name meant and largely made my decisions that way - though I could also search by country of origin, astrological sign, season, or famous folks who shared a name. If I was feeling real crafty, I could choose a name and change a letter or two: the height of creativity in my late teens.
Now that that the internet is a thing and I'm not cramming a week's worth of searching and fooling around on the computer into one class period, I've got a lot more resources at my disposal in selecting the perfect name for my characters. Whether it's naming my latest gaming avatar or current favorite narrator, there are as many opportunities to be unique as there are risks in duplicating what someone else has already done. The work is practically being done for us these days.
But there's still something about selecting a character's name that feels like it ought to be organic, at least for me.
In The Hidden Icon, I wanted both Eiren and Gannet to be named for birds. I wish I could tell you that I had a really cool reason why this was, but I'll be honest: I did not. I wanted there to be something immediately connecting the two characters, identifying some kinship between them. Names are vital things: they're given to us, but they also principally define how we first think of ourselves and how we connect to others. Being the mother of small children and often in the company of other small children, I can tell you, names are a pretty big deal. You tell a small child she's "silly" and she'll insist, "No, I'm INSERT NAME HERE."
In the first draft, Eiren was simply 'Wren.' I later changed the spelling of her name to be more fantastical, which feels so lame to admit, but it's true. I've had some delightful (for me) conversations around the pronunciation of her name, and I've been surprised by the variety. Some folks have normalized it, assuming it's pronounced AIR-en, others EYE-ren. In my head, it's always been EAR-en, but I've truly got no dog in this fight. I just love that there is a fight.
Her sister, Lista, was also originally named 'Chantal,' which I changed because I wanted something more grounded. Morainn's name was different in the first draft, as well: she was Morrigan, which obviously has a lot of connotation I later wanted to avoid. There's some bird stuff there, too - you'd think I'd planned it.
As I'm writing, I often have to come up with a name for a character on the spot - and I do it quickly, often with the intention of changing it later. I like to lean on names that have the flavor of the setting the characters are in, and just like my oh-so-ingenious teenage self, my best (and possibly only) trick is mixing up a few letters to create something that's unique to my world. I tend to poke around and try things out until I settle on something that just has the right feel, just as one does when naming children, really.
Bonus about naming in books? No arguments with my husband. The characters are all mine.