A Character by Any Other Name

What do you think of characters’ names in books? Do you like the unusual or the exotic, or would you prefer the more common names?

I’ve been catching up on a bunch of reviews, and it seemed that in every one of them, one or both main characters had unusual names. In some, I had to keep looking back to see which one was the hero and which was the heroine, and in a couple, I didn’t have a clue how to pronounce the names. And they weren’t paranormals; at least in other worlds, I expect something exotic.

I’ve used a few less-than-common names before — Shay, Rory, Mariah, Easy. My current heroine is named Masiela. In my very first book, my editor asked me to change the heroine’s name from Tristan — too unisexual to go with a hero named Rafael. My original Shay was paired with a hero named Rory, and my editor asked me again to change it, since both names were (at the time) fairly unusual. She became Shanna, but a few years later, I tried Shay again (with Easy) without so much as an editorial blink.

But I tend toward the garden variety names — Liz, Joe, Beth, Tommy, Tony, Ellie. I like biblical names, too — Rachel, Elizabeth, Gabriel, Leah. I don’t want anything too trendy, and I get the giggles when I read a book with a character whose name makes me think, “Someday she’s gonna be Grandma Whatever.”  (When she was little, my niece had an imaginary Grandma Tiffany. No offense to any Tiffanys out there, but that always made me laugh. Of course, my grandmothers’ names were Golda and Florence.)

Do characters’ names ever bother you? Do you get hung up on the pronunciation or spelling? How about silly things like a heroine named Blue with a hero whose last name is White? Do similar names confuse you? (I knew a woman named Jimmie Leigh who was married to a man named Jimmy Lee, but something like that in a book would drive me up the wall.) What about young people with names that haven’t been popular in 150 years?

Do characters’ names matter to you at all? Or are we authors (and editors) the only ones who care?

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