I named Sam Butler after two of my best friends when I was a kid: Sam B. and J. Butler. Sorry, I'm not going to give away their full names because of privacy. But I played in the woods with these boys incessantly. When I think back to the most imaginative time of my life, these two come to mind. So, they're my muse, and their names help me tap into my creativity today.
I've taken names from my youth and put them into my stories. The characters take on lives of their own that are sometimes very different from their name-sakes. I feel, and I hope my friends agree, that this habit is a nod to the people who encouraged my creativity as a youth.
One of the downsides of growing up in a rural area is that I didn't have a diverse population from which to draw names, so I added a few names from later in life too. Fortunately, when you Google Sam Butler (at the time of this post), the second link is to a black musician, so hopefully the main character appeals to a broader, more inclusive audience.
Some characters bring back different feelings for me. Justin Brown is the only person, from who I took his full name. Justin was a graduate student that I taught and adored at Stanford. He is no longer with us, and I felt that naming a character after him would honor his memory. I hope his family feels that I've done right by him.