According to Juliet Capulet, "[w]hat's in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet;/So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,/Retain that dear perfection which he owes/Without that title."
While her wisdom might be timeless, I must disagree here. To me, names all have some inherent connotation to them which colors how I perceive the character. If Romeo were instead named Percival, he would not--to me--be the same man. Biased, maybe, yet true.
As writers, we have an endless supply of names for our characters. We must take into consideration the way first and last names flow together, possible nicknames for our characters, and how each name would implicitly characterize this figure. When filling out the elements of a character, his or her name is essential.
Maybe because I love writing alpha males this is more important, as some names just sound stronger than others, but I am very picky about certain names for heroes. This DOES NOT apply to real life, but as our heroes are essentially real men, but better, I hold them to a higher standard. For example: "Richard" is unappealing as a hero because the nickname there is "Dick." I find it much more appropriate for the villain or male obstacle of the piece. "Harry" is another I'm not fond of, mostly for its visual connotation.
Unfortunately, I have stumbled across a small handful of books whose heroes, though incredibly heroic and well-characterized, I just could not root for. I didn't like them as much as others equally worthy because their name did not scream "hero." Even beta males as heroes deserve strong, or at least interesting, names. But because names and personal identity are so important to modern society (I point to the monogramming and personalization crazes as proof) its positive and negative impressions must be considered. Below I have borrowed names from "Lord of the Flies" for illustrative purposes.
Jack: the hard consonance and its brevity lend the name to a strong, stoic leader-type hero. It is a simple name, not short for anything, nor does it have a commonly used nickname. Such a man would be equally strong but elemental.
Simon: This rings as an intellectual name, which in itself is sexy and powerful. Smart men are some of my favorite heroes. Simon is probably more of a beta male, but no less heroic for it. Like Jack, it is not a diminutive, nor is it often given a nickname.
Ralph: While this seems like a solid alpha-male name, it evokes the idea of vomit. Also, unlike "Jack," which has a pleasing hard "k," the "f" sound of Ralph just isn't as hero-worthy. Don't ask me why, I haven't figured that out yet.
Eric/Erik: This name is appealing in its dual spellings. "Eric" is more of an all-American good ol' boy who surfs and has those sea-blue eyes framed by windswept blond hair. "Erik," on the other hand, is familiar, yet foreign and exotic. He would have dark hair to contrast those seemingly-innocent blue eyes, and maybe a tinge of Eastern European accent to make his sweet nothings even sexier.
I've been told that I'm too sensitive to what others say are non-existent connotations, but what do you think? Is this naming business b.s., or would a rose really smell as sweet if it were called something unpleasant-sounding like "yeasty" or "hymen"? And on that note, what is your most and least favorite word to hear?
p.s. my fave is lush