I have been asked how I select the names of characters. Sometimes I look through a phone book or newspaper (the bridal and baby-brag pages provide some interesting contemporary names). At other times, I use a book of baby names complete with meanings and variations in other cultures. I have a wee list of clan and sept names for my Scottish characters. And there are wonderful online sites for names common in other countries.
Of course, historical fiction allows, or may even require, the inclusion of actual persons from the past. The same can be said of stories set in the present, although there may be legal issues that prevent an author from naming a living person.
In general, I try to give characters names that differentiate them (especially when there are many characters in the novel). Some tales lend themselves to the use of names from many parts of the world, when a melting-pot setting suits the story. And fantasy and science fiction challenge one to invent names that are entirely alien.
Another consideration is how a name sounds: giving a character a name appropriate to his or her temperament or station in life. And some names seem to make a character more (or less) likable.
Does a character’s name make him or her more attractive to you?