That which we call a rose would smell as sweet.
But would it? Would Harry Potter be such an everyman if his name were Albus Dumbledore? Would Aragon, son of Arathorn, be so inspiring if he were named Bilbo Baggins? Is it just familiarity that makes these names feel perfect, or is there actually something to choosing the perfect name?
A name matters
Sometimes, a name points to a certain attribute a character has. Remus Lupin, from the Harry Potter universe, has a two part meaning name: Remus, from the tale of Romulus and Remus, two brothers nursed by a she-wolf, the legendary founders of Rome; and Lupin- the word lupine mean wolf-like, or pertaining to wolves, from the Latin word lupus. I guess the kid was destined to be a werewolf, the bite just sealed the deal.
Some names are a little subtler, like Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. Tryion purple was a dye made from mollusk shells and was worn exclusively by Roman emperors (to wear purple and not be royal was punishable by death, even up until the 1700s, I believe). Perhaps this is a nod to the wealth and ambition of the Lannister family.
So be careful when naming your character, and what meanings that name may have.
A name doesn’t matter
I’m not trying to confuse you, I promise. Sometimes, a name doesn’t have to have a meaning hidden in it, it can be chosen on feel. My penname refers to a river in England which has special significance to me. My real name means ‘divine,’ but that’s not why it was given to me (though it does fit.) My mother named me after a song, sometimes babies are named for family members (my real middle name is also my mother’s middle name), or people their parents admired.
Sometimes you’ll get a kid named after a virtue (Grace, Hope, Joy), or months (usually spring and summer months. I don’t see many Novembers, and that’s a shame.), or plants, etc. These I don’t consider meaningful names because a person is not always hopeful, June isn’t always a significantly auspicious month for people named that, and unless someone is very well-versed in the language of flowers, plant names are usually chosen on aesthetics.
My daughter would be named Nasturtium Garlic Van Hassel, because I’d want her coded to be brave, strong, and victorious in battle.
These names are more about the feeling they inspire in the reader, than the personal history of the character. They feel more real. Harry Potter isn’t literally a gardener, but such a common name makes the story feel like it could happen to anyone, which is great for books about kids. Stanley Yelnats, of Holes, does not have a meaning name because ‘Stanley’ means a stone clearing, and while Camp Green Lake had lots of stones and he did do lots of clearing, his father didn’t, nor any of the Stanley Yelnatses before him. The point of that name was a dorky family joke, illustrating the closeness of the relationship with his family.
Every character name should have a why, but the why need not be literally spelled out in the name.
Sometimes name generators are great. I use them for all of my fantasy stories because I’m not great at fantasy sounding names. This sometimes is great, sometimes gets me into trouble. Alois and Sulat both came from a generator. Alois is a real name, unfortunately also the name of Hitler’s father and one of his brothers. But ehh, not all Adolfs are evil, so there’s that to keep in mind.
I thought Sulat was one of those truly unique names because I ran it through a baby name site and came up with nothing, but then I Googled it, and it’s a town in the Philippines, which is now on my bucket list.
I love Alois and Sulat’s names. I love that his is all soft sounds and vowels and ends in an s, because despite his size and muscle and bravado, he’s a lover, not a fighter. And Sulat ends with a sharp t, almost like a full stop, which is great because she’s blunt and efficient and doesn’t like a lot of faffing about. Their names suit them perfectly, meaning aside. So, consider the sounds, as well.
My favourite generators are: