Quite a lot, I reckon. During the course of writing my own manuscript, I changed the names of major – and many minor – characters several times. I found that as their personalities developed, they often outgrew the names I had initially thought were perfect for them.
I’m not sure what this says about me, but I find names very important when I’m reading a novel. Those that I don’t like will simply jar on me throughout. For example, I read a book last week, which had the main protagonist as a ‘Bernard’. I simply couldn’t get on with it – resorting by the finish, to giving my poor, beleaguered Bernard a French spin in an attempt to lend him the charisma that his character so called for.
Would I treasure Pride & Prejudice quite as much had Fitzwilliam Darcy been plain old George Smith? Austen’s brilliance would always lead me to say yes, but I’m grateful I don’t have to ponder it. For me, a great character name should be unique, age and period appropriate – and one that suits their personality to such an extent that they become almost like a living relative.
I’m sorry, Bernard, but alas I fear we are destined to remain casual acquaintances.