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NamesI beg to differ from the Bard on this: I’m not all that sure a rose would smell as sweet if it were called, say, benzopyrene. Or, even if it did, would you really smell it to make sure?

Names matter. Names are not all the same.

And yes, I confess: I’m the sort who will stay after the film is ended, to read the names in the end credits. The sort who will sift through obituaries, other people’s old class lists and spam mail for names. The sort who, when playing D&D at sixteen, could agonize for weeks over the name of a Level 1 elf…

When I start writing something new, names are all important. I can spend hours poring over name lists in dictionaries, seeking The Right Name. And it’s hardly ever a matter of meaning. Mostly, it’s the sound. And of course, when writing historicals, other considerations weight in the choice, such as time period, custom and social suitability – but all the same, the name must sound right for the character.

Oddly enough, I don’t always choose first names I like. I’ve foisted on beloved characters names I’d frankly hate to bear, while some names I love never proved right for any character of mine. Odder still, last names work differently:  they must not only sound well with the character’s first name – for some reason, I want to like them.

All this to say that there is this novel I’m slowly revising, in which two main characters bore names starting with A, and three different beta readers suggested that I should change at least one. It seems it’s not a good idea to have different characters’ name begin with the same letter. Readers might get confused.

Yes, yes – I know: I think I’d take offence too if anyone implied that I can mix up two very different characters just because they share an initial. And yet… what if someone got confused? What if they had to check again and again to make sure who’s who? What if they threw the book away before page thirty – because they can’t tell characters apart? Not good, is it?

So in the end I decided to give up one of my oh-so-carefully chose names, and I’m not enormously happy, because one I like, and the other is perfect for the character, and no amount of list sifting has yet produced a good alternative for either…

And no: my characters don’t smell as sweet by any other name. Why, one of them has even changed face in my mind – all because of the name I’m not sure I’ll keep… I dare say that, for once and as far as I’m concerned, Shakespeare just might be wrong.