Shakespeare had a point – would a rose called by another name still smell as sweet? Probably. But then, it wouldn’t be a rose, either.
The art of naming can be a fickle beast. We put so much time coming up with the perfect name for our children, pets, etc., that often we can’t think of calling them anything else. The same is true of our characters. While for some these might be just names on a page, for the author they are like our children – we grow up with them, we learn to trust them and to follow where they lead.
If Tolkin had named Gandalf, say, George, would he have the same regal presence as he did? Or if Pullman named his lead character Mary, would she still be as brave and silver-tongued as she is as Lyra? Would Holmes and Watson still have the perfect partnership if they were called Jones and Smith? Speaking of Jones, would Indiana still seem as adventurous if his name was Joe?
I’d like to say that these characters would still hold a place in literary history if they were called something else but I’m not so sure they would. Even if the authors had chosen these names, would the Big Six even give them the time of day after seeing the blurb? And if they did take that chance, would the readers have picked these books up and even flipped through them? Or would the reviewers make it the entire way through the book and give it a ‘thumbs up’ review?
Setting aside the literary world, would they have been made into movies that tens of thousands of people flocked to see? Would little boys clamber to be Monty Potts, boy wizard, for Halloween if Rowling had named Harry that instead? Would the girls still swoon over Jacob and Edward if Meyer had called them Keith and Lawrence? Somehow, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The characters themselves might still act the same way – but not necessarily. Most authors will tell you that their characters are alive. And while these names might not make the man, they wouldn’t be the same man if their name was changed. Just like naming me ‘Allison’ instead of ‘Tricia’ could have resulted in a totally different self perspective.
Then again, it might also smell sweeter.
Look for the books Tricia has edited on Amazon.