I think this piece of advise is obvious. I struggle with remembering names (even if the character is good, important and the name is easy), so for me when books have a billion side characters all with names, I’m not going to remember them. And it can be confusing. 

You’re going to name your protagonist, the love interest, some side characters and most likely the villain. But not every guard in the palace or innkeeper who rents your protagonist a room is important enough to deserve a name, even if you know their name. 

Because here’s the thing, in my first book there is a friendly old woman who sells my leads a book. I know that she used to run a book shop in the capital with her husband, that it got stressful and she got ill. When she got ill instead of taking care of her he digged himself deeper into his work. Because of this her sister came to take care of her, and once she recovered she left him and moved to the city where she currently lives selling books at a cheaper price at the market. In the book, she just sells the main character a book. I could have said her name. But why would I? 

Also, if you follow this rule, it can be a good way to signal to a reader, “hey, this guy, pay attention, he’s important”, even if they don’t do anything of importance quite yet. I have character’s appear with names far before they’re relevant at times. 

But I took this to a new extreme with my book. 

Very minor spoilers for Dear Dragon, but, I didn’t even give the villain a name. Because he wasn’t important. He isn’t the main series villain, he’s the first book villain. And because of this, he isn’t important long term, so I wrote an entire book and just never said his name, it never came up. 

I noticed after. And I asked my beta readers, did you find it weird the villain was never given a name? 

The reaction was, “he didn’t have a name?” sometimes followed with page turning and a “huh”. 

Now don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t have a name but he does have a specific way to which he is refered to throughout the book. But here’s the thing, in two books time I know my character’s are going to have forgotten about him, because he becomes nothing but a speck in comparison to what they are yet to face. So, it’s only appropriate that my readers share that experience. And there is little more forgettable than a character without a name. 

In conclusion, stop worrying about giving each and every character the perfect name and surname, instead, look at each character and ask yourself, are they important? And how am I going to communicate their importance to my audience? Start with them being or not being a named character.