As I hinted in my answer to Dave’s Monday post, names of characters assume a disproportionate importance to me. I don’t know if anyone else is bedeviled with this problem, but I can’t seem to write a character at all until his name is right. The voice won’t come into focus until I know to whom it belongs.
Now on the outside it looks like a very weird ideosyncrasy. I mean, as good old Will of the shaking lance told us, a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet. In real life, I’m fairly sure we’ve all met the equivalent of Prudebunny Pussicat who was hell on wheels. It is a well known fact – though its so well known it could be used in naming characters, frankly – that if you name a kid Grace she will trip on her own two feet all day, a Joy will be a sourpuss and I’m fairly sure all the young men now named Storm or Blaze will turn out mild-mannered milquetoasts. Heck if you want to be assured of a go-getter as a son name him – as one of my mother’s friends was – Amavel (in Portuguese, non literal, it means "mild mannered.")
So why does it assume such a disproportionate importance in characters? I don’t know. Perhaps it is one of those instances in which life does not have to be plausible, but fiction does. Or perhaps it’s the newly-hatched duck syndrome. As I get tired of preaching to new writers, it’s very nice that you want to start your book with this incidental never-again-seen character, but your reader, like a newly hatched duckling, will attach to it and be very upset when he’s not the main character. In the same way, when we get introduced to someone in real life, we’re not bound to the name only. If Amavel has a roguish twinkle in his eye, we’ll know better than take him at his name-value.
On the page, though, no matter how much you describe the character, the name gives us a hint to what he is. And unless you make it a point early on of pointing out that he is ironically named, people will think you mean it.
I first ran into this with Nigel Oldhall, who was a secondary character in Heart of Light. For a secondary character, and given his attitude, I wanted staid and somewhat wet. I didn’t realize that making him the hero of the third book would drive me insane and I’d be dragging "Nigel" up and down the page. (I asked, but the editor wouldn’t let me give him a more colorful pseudonym.)
I ran into this headlong with the sequel to Darkship Thieves, in which took secondary character Etienne Boulanger (let alone that given my issues with double letters he was often Etiene or Ettiene) and made him main character. It just wouldn’t work. In the first book I wanted an every-man sort of name at least in the planning process and he wasn’t central enough for the name to bother me. But dragging an Etienne through the book was impossible. So, with the editor’s consent – and going back to the first book before it’s typeset – he’s been renamed Simon St. Cyr. Why this works better I don’t know, but it makes the character immediately live for me. The St. Cyr, btw, was at his insistence. I have NO clue why. (I had a similar issue with Draw One In The Dark in which I tried to name Kyrie Kris and Krissy and Katy and Kelly, but nothing would work till I named her what she thought she was called "Kyrie Grace". The fact that this was the name of the newborn daughter of a friend made no difference at all to the character.)
I confess to making extensive use of www.behindthename.com, though mostly I just skip through the desired pages until a name "clicks" with what the character.
So, why do you think this is? Are there any characters you think would change completely with different names? Would Pride and Prejudice work just as well if Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy’s names were reversed? Why not?