Over the years I tried several different approaches to character names. I’m still not sure which the best way is.
When I started I just picked names “out of the air.” It turned out that wasn’t always easy to do, and some of the names were uninspired. Later I developed names that were similar to mine, like Jack Gilmore in Line of Taxis. I thought this was a little too cute, so I dropped that.
At one workshop I attended I learned that if you happen to pick a rather uncommon name, there is a chance that if your character resembles someone with the same name, you could be open to a lawsuit. After that I decided to use names that were common.
I found several sites on the internet with lists of names by popularity are available for different countries. From this I selected the top 100 or so. At first I used a random method to generate names from this list. On both The Glencoe Project and The Gladstone Barrier I generated names identical to people I knew. There were also some similarity in the characters, so I replaced those quickly.
Another problem to avoid is names that sound similar. To do this I made a rule to have only one name that started with the same letter. I’ve kept up with that, but I sometimes run out of letters I can use for names.
Some people pick character names that are symbolic. For example, a character named Green might be jealous. I am often tempted to do this myself, but resisted because it would look bad if it were too obvious.