Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet …
-WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, ROMEO & JULIET, Act II Scene II
Most writers agonize about every aspect of their novels, spending countless hours pouring over setting, character traits, story flow, climax, and conflict among other details. In this fastidious quest for the perfect story, character nomenclature may seem to be one of the easiest things for a writer to cross off their “to do list.” Do character names even matter? Doesn’t naming just boil down to a quick Google search on “sexy guy names” or “popular girl names”? Even if character names are important for writers, do readers even care? In my opinion, monikers for major characters often matter a great deal to both reader and writer. As a writer, both the first and last names of my characters serve to give more insight into my heroines and heroes. Often names can be descriptive of a character’s past and familial line or serve as a portent for things to come. Certain names can instill a sense of pride, wonder, or trepidation in a reader.
For instance, in the article “50 Greatest Literary Character Names of All Time” by Greg Olear, the author notes the importance of the name Count Dracula for the pivotal character in Bram Stoker’s eponymous novel. Count Dracula is named for Vlad the Impaler (Vlad II), a fifteenth century ruler of a segment of the Romanian Empire. Both Vlad II and his father were members of the Order of the Dragons, and the word dracula formerly meant “dragon” in Romanian, but is now understood to mean “devil.” Even over a century later, the mere mention of Dracula spooks up images of vampires and other mysterious, menacing creatures that go bump in the night.
Another instance of the importance of naming is seen in the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. In the article “Scarlett O’Hara,” the author notes that upon the urging of her editor Mitchell changed her heroine’s name from Pansy to Scarlett. The editor believed that the name Scarlett (derived from the the French word scarlet) would be a more suitable moniker for the overly dramatic lead. The adjective form of scarlet means wicked, heinous, or sinful while its noun formation means red or red cloth.
So readers, how would you rate the importance of character names in a story? Feel free to leave a comment below! If we all can agree that character names can be important, how does a writer go about picking the perfect names for their characters? Stay tuned for a future article on some guidelines for selecting pitch perfect character names …1