"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
So Shakespeare's Juliet says, but I can't say that I agree with her. Take the first immortal line of Melville's Moby Dick, "Call me Ishmael." We're involved with this character right away. Why? Ishmael is in dire straights, it's true, but it doesn't hurt that he has an interesting name.
And what of The Three Musketeers? If Alexandre Dumas had used the names Art, Phil, Bert, and Abner instead of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, would we be as intrigued with his story? I don't think so. Dumas chose wisely. His musketeers sound strong, mysterious and noble. They enhance the musketeer legend without doing a thing. Art, Phil, Bert, and Abner do not. They'd fit in nicely on an episode of The Office, however.
It's a lot of responsibility choosing a name. Yet, the success of your work may depend on it. Have you ever found yourself irritated by a main character's name when you're reading a book? When the monikers are too trendy, it drives me crazy and distracts me from the dialogue, plot, etc. I find myself changing their names in my head as I go. No writer should put their reading audience through that. Here's what I mean by trendy. What if we used the currently popular Addison and Burke for two legendary lovers? They sound like a law firm or a handbag, for heaven's sake! I can't get past their labels to see the story. Oh, and I don't want to imagine I'm someone named after a food or a town or tree either. And please, don't do the funny spellings. It messes with my concentration.
Think of the stories that stay with us over time. Wuthering Heights . . . We are haunted by this dark tale of obsession and romance. Thank you Emily Bronte for giving us Heathcliff and Catherine instead of Lulu and Mortimer. Jane Eyre . . . Jane and Rochester are perfection. Hortense and Reginald wouldn't be.
'What's in a name?' Much.
I know whereof I speak on this. I have been saddled with my own name for over four decades. (Let me tell you, the elementary and teenage years were not easy.) It doesn't matter that I was called after two remarkable women among my progenitors of over a hundred and sixty years ago. That fact bears little weight now. Today, I know more pets named Roxy than I do people.
Tell me, gentle readers, now that I've finished my rant. How do you decide what to call your characters?