I am currently working on my next book, which means that I'm outlining and making notes about plot, character, setting, theme and all the rest. One thing I tend to have problems with is the naming of characters. I have a tendency to give my characters symbolic names, names that give the reader a clue to the character's personality or thematic purpose (although, in the interests of full disclosure, two very minor characters--both children who got no lines and almost no screen time--in my last book were named after people I know).
The book I'm moving towards writing has a big cast, or at least big for me. One nice thing about my last book is that I learned a thing or two about handling multiple characters, so I don't mind having a dozen or more folks to track. But I have to come up with names for them all. There is a temptation in this book, which will be very, very dark, to balance that darkness with some Dickensian silliness, to give my characters absurd and not-quite-realistic names. I attempt to resist that temptation. Which still leaves me in need of twenty names for characters.
Truman Capote claimed to have gotten all his character names from the phone book. One doubts that "Holly Golightly" was in the Manhattan directory, though. I have some standard methods of finding names, none of which include using real people. I often will decide on a single word (like "star") that is a good symbol for the character, and find names that have that meaning ("Estelle" or "Stella" or "Astrid" all mean "star," for example). I also lean heavily on Butler's Lives of the Saints and the Bible for names, and I've also mined Greek myths and fairy tales.
Does it, do you think, really matter much what we name a character? Certainly it matters to us, as writers, but do you think that if Romeo and Juliet had been named Dominic and Luisa their story would have a different meaning to the readers?
So, then, two questions for you:
1. Do character names really matter much to readers, aside from the obvious need for names to be dissimilar enough among the characters for readers to keep them all straight while reading, and
2. How on earth do you find names for your characters?