Nothing, and everything! The great bard’s answer to that question, of course, is that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Quite true, in the most literal sense. Yet when I’m naming my characters, that rarely proves to be the case.
Someone recently asked me how I come up with the names for my characters. Being of the non-writing persuasion, this individual marveled that I could come up with names that seem just right for the characters. The first answer I gave her was that the names just came to me, that there was no real rhyme or reason. But then I thought about it a little bit, and realized that I actually had a naming convention of sorts, one that encompasses a variety of conscious and unconscious rules.
Take my first novel, for example. In An Unintended Seduction, both my hero and heroine received new names. Because this was my first ever novel-child, I honestly never expected to finish it, much less shop it around and get published. So I gave my hero and heroine rather, um, embarrassing names. No, I won’t divulge that information. I’ll take it to my grave. Once I’m dead, those already in the know are free to spill the beans, but until then…ixnay, no way. Embarrassment aside, when I realized they needed new, more appropriate names, I admit that I was stumped for a while. After all, I’d spent years thinking of them by their original names. But then I realized that I had their names right in front of me.
If you’ve read my novel, you’ll notice I have several allusions to Sir William Shakespeare woven through the tale. Some obvious, some less so. But the most important one centered on our hero and his relationship with his two friends. Growing up, they had called themselves ‘the triumvirate’. I used the idea as a metaphor for the breaking of the friendship. My hero was the leader of the trio. That realization brought the ‘A-HA’ moment. What better name for the leader than Julian, a variant of Julius?
With the hero named, the heroine’s name came to me almost at once, but it wasn’t until much, much later that I realized how apropos the name Miranda would prove. I had unconsciously chosen another Shakespearean name. In The Tempest, the innocent Miranda is both naive and yet strong, an unusual duality. While the name came without conscious thought, it was rooted in my first passion: Shakespeare’s plays.
So what’s in a name? The heart and soul of what makes you a writer.