With the upcoming Warlords of Draenor patch (6.2), World of Warcraft players will be able to stake their claim on a bunch of previously unavailable names. Blizzard will be freeing up character names that have not been logged into since December 7, 2010. “We will be releasing sidelined characters’ names back into the wild,” said a statement from Blizzard.
The patch drops Tuesday, so if you haven’t logged in for five years and would like to keep the name of your character, the only way to do so is to log in before patch 6.2 goes live. “While it is possible no one will claim your recently released name and you might be able to snag it again, it is probably not worth the risk,” said the statement.
Blizzard did say, "we’ll post more information on the timeframe this will occur to allow you the opportunity to preserve your name."
If a name you wanted does not get freed up in this patch it is possible it will later on, with more inactive names going live around the release of new expansions.
What will happen to the actual characters once they are stripped of their names? We’ll find out once 6.2 goes live.