I had grown tired of using traditional names for my characters. Now, I name my characters after: States, cites, towns, villages, and suburbs withing the United States. I think it makes them more interesting. My son is name Denver.
What, all of them? I think I would get fed up of a book that didn't have any normal names in and would have to stop reading it. After all, in real life you might know one Shitlingthorpe Smith, but he's surrounded by John and Mary and Kevin and Susan, rather than Slackbottom Jones and Lower Piddle On The Marsh Thompson and Humptulips Fisher and Bell End Baker. I think if characters rely on their names to be interesting then you're on to a loser.
I went to school with a guy named Shitlingthorpe. Or, to be more precise, that's what his name should have been. I dated a girl named Slackbottom, but we'll not discuss that here. And I strenuously deny anything that tart Humptulips Fisher says about me.
I love Dickens' character names, but even he had his Davids and Williams for his more 'normal' characters among the Pumblechooks and Bumbles and Squeers. Similarly Wodehouse's Fink-Nottle and Cheesewright etc. Wodehouse wrote comic fiction. And Horace and Bertie and Sam and Reginald were normal names for the day. I don't think you can get away with all off the wall names in a modern crime novel unless it's a humourous one (and I believe George writes serious fiction - correct me if I'm wrong George). If Dennis Lehane had named all his Mystic River characters after places, or given them weird names, it would have been a totally different book and one which would have thrown me out of the action. People in my office are not called Devon and Margate and Brighton and Scunthorpe. They are called Ann and Douglas and Zoe and Kevin. So no, I am not calling Wodehouse and Dickens wankers.
I opt for the names that adorn all the Spam I receive offering to enhance a portion of anatomy I do not possess. Like Pescadero Thompson and Euphrates Talent. As mentioned above, you don't dare use too many of them in a book, but one or two adds spice.
I check the birth records as well. It does crack me up a bit when you get a character now who's 35 and her name is Mackenzie. Maybe, but not highly likely. It's like people cycle out the current modern names for characters who wouldn't have been named that in the era they were born.
As much as I like original names, everything has to be done for the right reason. Here's a newsflash: It's very offensive to Native Americans to name children after tribes. Cheyenne, Dakota... the names evidently have a spiritual significance that make it the equivalent of naming your child "Jesus Christ". I was reading about this doing research on Native names for a character. I would never choose to name a character something that would be considered offensive unless that was part of my aim, and I can't imagine that being the case.
I'm with Donna, though. Naming can be like anything else, where if it strikes you as unrealistic or done for the wrong reasons, it pulls you out of the story.
It's actually putting them together, IJ. Not naming your son 'Jesus' (hay-zeus as the Spanish variation on pronunciation and quite popular) and not Christus, but literally being named "Jesus Christ."
Border guard: "First name"
JC: "Jesus Christ."
Or naming your child God, I suppose. But it is important to understand the cultural views on names if it might be relevant to your book. Since I have a Native character, I didn't want to screw up the name there. We actually have a dog named Nootka, and I took the name from the Jack London book and didn't realize it was a tribal name. Now I feel pretty bad about it, knowing it would be highly offensive.