I had a very pleasant exchange with a reader awhile back about whether the characters’ names had any particular meaning for me, and I thought other readers might be interested in knowing this too. If you’re not into vague authorial introspection, you can skip this post :D
The answer is yes, for the most part. Some names meant more than others, of course. I basically never look up what names actually mean or where they derive from until long after the fact because those just aren’t important factors to me in choosing names. When I run across a name I like, I try to keep it in mind until I can use it. The way names sound is important, and the way they feel in the mouth when you say them. I used to do a job where I heard and typed dozens or even hundreds of people’s names every day, and this has given me a sort of amorphous sense of what constitutes a believable, plausible name. I want character names to be as real-seeming as anything you’d find on a sign-up sheet or roll list, but fitting for the personalities and scenarios involved.
All the boys’ first names were chosen from census lists of era-appropriate names. Personally, I am not okay with circa-1900 Jadens and Tylers! I knew what my Main Character and Love Interest would look like, and had a good sense of their personalities, and when I was looking at census lists Henry seemed dark and shy, and Martin seemed bright and determined, and that was that. If I even considered other names, my notes don’t reflect that, and I certainly don’t remember having other options. They are who they are.
As it turns out, Henry is a king’s name, Martin a warrior’s. You can make a case for either, I suppose, but I like to think they’re more nuanced than that! And more fallible.
Because I had the idea early on that it would be great to have a modern AU of this story (and I’ve written half of it already), I made sure that all of the boys’ first names would be plausible as modern-era names, as well. That meant nothing like Cornelius or Zebediah or Ezekiel, nothing too blatantly biblical or quaint.
As for last names, Blackwell read a couple of ways to me: solid and distinguished, but not particularly refined or patrician, much like Henry’s father. It also was literally a dark pit, black/well, and I think that’s not too far off from where the Blackwell family is sunk at the beginning of the series. I felt that Blackwell slotted in next to Henry in a very satisfying way. I definitely wanted “black” in the family’s name and considered a couple of other names, but it was the well/pit that decided it for me!
Hiram Blackwell, by the way, was deliberately saddled with a very old-fashioned name to make him seem much more conservative than he eventually proves to be. It’s a very no-nonsense name to me, an impatient name.
Pettibone was one I dredged out of memory, indeed because of Adam’s horrible pettiness and cruelty. For a more basic boy, I wanted Louis’ last name to be sort of a blunt grunt with a bit of a rasp, and Briggs did that for me. Gordon Lovejoy is one of the unhappiest of the young masters, though perhaps only I know that at this point! Albert and Abigail DeWitt get their last name from a guy I dated who had nothing at all in common with the twins, but I’ve always liked the shape of the name, the way it looks typed.
DeWitt is also relevant to New York. DeWitt, van Houten and Vermeulen are all Dutch surnames to reflect New York’s history of Dutch colonization, chosen for sound and shape in addition to their Dutchness.
The Wiltons were originally going to be Wilsons, but a random viewing of something related to cake decorating (there is a Wilton company that makes pans and decorating equipment) made me switch to the more-interesting variant, which seems an immeasurably better fit to me, what with the relationship to frivolous beauty and pleasure.
Jesse’s name was chosen for the same sort of vague era-appropriate reasons as other first names, and his sister Bette’s name was chosen for era and also because I liked the idea of the siblings having the same pattern to their names. While it really doesn’t show up in the books at all, know that Bette is very much the female version of her younger brother in terms of enthusiasms.
At the very least, every name was chosen for a rhythm that appealed to me, and in most cases there was a little more behind it, albeit all fairly personal in terms of meaning.
I had one of my beta readers complain while reading A Proper Lover (GQ 2) that I had too many -well names (Blackwell, Caldwell, Maxwell) and that I should change them. Of course, it was too late to make changes at that point, but it probably was too many!