Sometimes someone says something to you which makes you see things in a different way. Some recent comments from my readers have had that effect on me.
I’ve always played it safe with character names, trying not to stray into comedy, cause offence or sound reminiscent of anyone famous. I have tried to broaden the geographical spread of my character names, after it was pointed out to me that in my first book everyone seemed to have a common British name, and that has gone some way my character names more interesting. But not far enough.
In real life no-one wants an embarrassing name, a crazy name or a name which sounds like their job (nominative determinism if you prefer), but novels are not real life. In a novel, a character’s name is a flag. No matter how distinctive their appearance, how graphic their description, they will mostly be referred to by just their name. Other characters will refer to them by name. Readers who talk to other readers about your novel will often refer to characters by just their name.
Every character’s name is crucial. It’s the memory key that recalls every other part of their personality and appearance in the mind of your reader. If it’s not distinctive, evocative and memorable then you run the risk of readers becoming confused. If they lose track of which character is which then, no matter how exciting the story is, the whole thing will stop making sense. That’s when you lose the reader.