What is in a name?

Like many authors, I spend a lot of time tasting the names of my characters. Do they fit them, do they please me, are they adequate for the period—many, many questions.

Some characters come with names. Matthew Graham popped up neatly labelled as did Alex Lind, a modern woman who gave me a mental headshake before throwing the rather handsome Matthew a surreptitious look. Other characters begin life with one name and then, about halfway through my rough draft, I just change it. Inspiration has struck, which is why Adam de Guirande is named Adam and not Gilbert. (A change I am very happy with)

In a WIP I’ve been working on for quite some years, my female protagonist popped up as Sofia Carolina Rudbeck. Of mixed descent, the Swedish young woman lives in 17th century Stockholm and will spend much of her childhood in proximity to Queen Kristina. Not something Sofia is all that thrilled about, because Kristina is several years older and not always all that nice. Anyway: after like 40 000 words it struck me that my character shared her name with my sister. (I rarely call my sister Sofia, I use Fia instead which explains why it hadn’t struck me before, I guess)

So, could I really use my sister’s name for an invented character? I decided not, so Sofia became Hannah. That worked for a while—especially while I wasn’t working too much on the WIP. But now that I am back to thinking about it, Hannah Carolina just doesn’t sound right. At all. The person taking shape through my words totally agrees. When I ask her for suggestions, she just gives one: Sofia. When I ask the male protagonist, he says the same.
“I’ve never called her Hannah,” he says.
“That’s because you call her your little pigeon,” I tell him.
Jon Crowne smiles. “I like pigeons.”

Where I have vacillated over the name of the female protagonist, there was never any doubt about Jon’s name. Not that it is his real name, but that is between Jon and me—at least for now. And by the time he is in a position to reclaim his real name I suspect he won’t want to. But we shall see: such matters tend to become clearer as the full story takes shape.

I’ve now renamed Hannah. She is back to being Sofia, and ever since I took that decision, other bits and pieces of the narrative are falling into place. I even know how things will end. Well, almost. Still, a major improvement from how things were three or four weeks ago, and all because of a name that chafed and irritated. Clearly, there IS something in a name, no matter that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

Raquel 800px-Godward_Summer_Flowers_1903