What’s in a name? Ask Harry Potter, or Ponyboy Curtis or Dorothy Gale. Great names help your characters stand out. So how do you come up with a great name?

Back in the day, you could search the phone book. If you still have one, flip through it and make lists of names you like. Baby name books are good for this too and many will tell you the meaning, if you want something more subtle than say, naming the baker’s son Peeta. Parenting websites like Baby Center and have many ways to search for names.

The Social Security Website ranks baby names by year, by gender, by decade, by state, etc. Explore! Baby Name Wizard made this data into a cool interactive. Remember: today’s Sophia is tomorrow’s Jennifer, so consider your story’s time period. (If you are writing historical fiction, the Social Security website goes back as far as the 1880s.) For last names, consider your character’s ethnicity. Search the web for popular names by region or culture and find one that fits.

Start with these tips for teens.

Here’s a list from wikihow that is actually pretty useful – steps 5, 6 and 9 especially.

ScriptLab offers great do’s and don’t for screenwriters that work for fiction as well.

Many sources will tell you to start with people you know. Be careful that your name doesn’t have strong associations for you, or if it does, make sure they work for you and not against you. (And maybe check with your character’s namesake, just to be nice.)