Shakespeare’s answer was, not much. A rose, he asserted, would smell the same with any other name. I respectfully—and hesitantly, because who am I to say the Bard is wrong—disagree.
For example, I’m the third generation of Margarets in my family and I have carried on that tradition, as has my daughter. Tradition matters to us. Other parents want unique or unusual names for their children.
To be sure, sometimes there are unintended results. I have a friend who named her first son Jason. She and her husband had the initials J and A for their first names and, thus, the baby’s name would be “son of J and A.” Her baby had a name that meant something special to her and her husband.
Well, not so much. She had no way of knowing there was something in the zeitgeist that would give a significant percentage of the population in the U.S. the idea to name their sons Jason. So, my friend’s son went to school with a fair number of other Jasons.
Another friend named a child something she thought unique and then a Disney film came out with a similar name and the poor child was forever assumed to be named for a cartoon character.
It’s a tightrope writers walk, too, every time we start a new book. I actually spend more time naming characters than I spent naming my daughter (please don’t tell her I said that).
In an early book, for example, I named the hero Sam Richardson. I was new to writing romance and wanted to give a nod to the author of Pamela, credited with being the first romance novel.
In another, I named the mothers of the hero and heroine Celeste and Dolores, star and sadness, to denote the difference in the childhoods of the two characters. I have also named pets to indicate the jobs of heroines—a dog named Chihuly for a glass artist and a cat named Pulitzer for a newspaper reporter.
For my bad guys, I often use unattractive names not likely to be anyone’s actual name. That’s not always worked. I’ve had a couple comments from readers or reviewers who don’t like reading about characters with ugly names. And I had to find a way to change an unattractive name of a minor character into a more attractive name when I later wanted to make her the heroine in another novel.
In my newest release, Believing Again, I used names to denote important characteristics of my couple. Danny Hartmann, the heroine, grew up wanting to play cops and robbers with the boys. Her given name, Danita Rebecca, didn’t fit when she went off to be a police officer so she chose Danny. But her middle name has significance, too. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.) My hero needed to be a nice Jewish boy—so he’s Jake Abrams.
I’d love to have you read Believing Again and let me know if the names of my characters resonated with you and the theme of the book. Here’s the link to Amazon.
And as long as you got this far, tell me, do the names of characters make a difference to you when you read a book?