“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” A college professor once explained this line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as meaning names do not matter. The line was spoken by Juliet in reference to the Montague name as a way to imply that his name meant nothing or was of no importance. I’m not sure I agree with my former professor when it comes to the names of characters.
For me, main characters, and definitely in the case of the hero and heroine, have to have names that fit. The names define them in a manner of speaking. For example, an alpha hero just doesn’t seem very alpha if his first name is Bernie. (No offense to any Bernies out there.)
At times a character will come to me with their name already intact. This was the case of the heroine in my current work in progress (WIP). She came to me fully formed with her back story, her conflict, and most importantly (to me) her name – Olivia St. Germaine. Other times, characters will come with everything but their name and I give them one. Some times as soon as I say it aloud, it seems to fit and the character will smile at me and nod in agreement. Then there are the times when the character will back away, making the sign of the cross with their fingers at the sound of the name I’ve given them.
There are times where the name I’ve given them just doesn’t fit after I’ve started writing about them and I struggle to keep the name I gave them. Some characters tell me, “Stop calling me that, damn it. My name is…” which makes things easier. And then some characters go through a process of different names with their names changing the way a teenager changes clothes until we both get tired or the name finally seems to fit.
A secondary character in my current WIP started out as John. Four name changes later, I learned his name is David. The “Find and Replace” feature in my word processing program got a work out as I kept having to find and replace his old name with each successive new one. Finally David is happy and has become much easier to write.
So Mr. Shakespeare, with all due respect, I have to say, “A rose by any other name may still be a rose,” (I’m paraphrasing here, badly) but a character by any other name can be a completely different person.
Sarah Grimm whose novel, Not Without Risk, is a 2011 Readers Favorite Award Winner will be guest blogging here on Wednesday, 10/5/11.