For me, naming my characters is crucial.
If the name doesn't fit I struggle with 'seeing' that person as real.
I tend to go for unusual names for my heroines on the whole: Amber in THE WEDDING CONTRACT, Fleur in CONTRACT TO MARRY, Keely in IMPOSSIBLY PREGNANT, Carissa in WIFE AND MOTHER WANTED, Maya in INHERITED: BABY, Ariel in BIG-SHOT BACHELOR, Tahnee in TWO-WEEK MISTRESS. All very different names from the norm and I intended them that way because each of those heroines are unique and strong-willed and very individual in their own way.
In contrast, I tend to go with more traditional names for my heroes and once again that's deliberate, as I see my heroes as a lovely foil as well as a great match for my heroines. Some of my heroes have included Matt, Steve, Dylan, Darcy and Lachlan.
Not to take anything away from those heroes, who I like to think of as divine in their own right, for other heroes I've gone with slightly less traditional names because the characters warranted it: Brody (brooding ex cop), Riley (older brother comforting his dead brother's fiancee), Bo (Bogart-reclusive childrens' author), Cooper (go get 'em property developer)
Are you seeing a theme here?
The name fits the character and in turn, affects the names of their family and friends, depending on their motivations and upbringing.
So what's in a name? Plenty!
On a practical note, here's a fabulous site to get you started: NAMES
And if you're like me and start to forget names you've used and are at the risk of repeating them, I've made a file of index cards, where I write down first and surnames I've used, secondary characters and names I like but have yet to use. Took a bit of time at the start but worth it to avoid repetition. If I was more computer literate I'd probably put the whole lot on Excel? Maybe one day...
In COURTING CUPID, my heroine's name is Camryn. (I chose this because she's very strong-willed and I liked the thought of giving her a feminine form of a male name, which implies strength.)
My hero is Blane, a tad unusual perhaps, but it just popped out at me when looking through my index cards.
As for naming the cafe she runs, I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who gave me ideas. They were fabulous! For now, I've chosen Cafe Niche (which fits in with Camryn's conflict very nicely.) My mum actually came up with that one after looking at the pics.
I say 'for now' because it's one of those things I'm still not 100% happy about and I'm hoping the perfect name will leap out at me while I write the book.
Are names important to you?