Let’s talk about this: what’s in a name?

While we’re on the general subject of character names, let me open a question up to all of you: how do you go about naming your characters? In particular, how do you decide what to name your minor characters — or, indeed, figure out whether you should name them at all?

And once you have christened them, do you ever change their monikers, or are they blessed with their original names for life? Are you a lover of the 18th-century practice of naming characters in accordance with their primary characteristics (the punishment-happy Mr. Thwackum in TOM JONES springs to mind), or do you eschew it as too broad a wink at the reader?

Also, is it ever permissible to use real names — or, in a memoir, to change names to protect the innocent and/or guilty?

I’ve long suspected that every writer cherishes a different philosophy on the subject, so I’m genuinely curious. Thirty years ago, writing teachers used to tell their students routinely that they should just open up a phone book and start searching, but how has that mutated in the Internet age? Is it even a good idea to use a real person’s name?

Your thoughts?

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