Actually, on this rare occasion, I'd have to disagree with the world's favorite play-write. Names are essential. They are a part of identity, maybe even of destiny.
I have been writing a novel, and up until recently my leading lady was simply dubbed Bob.
That's not because I'm a freak, or my character is quirky (although she may be, just a bit), but because I couldn't think of a good name for her. Each of my characters has an important name that means something. It has to mean something. And it isn't so easy as naming a baby (or maybe it is... as it were I've experience with one and not the other) because my characters have pasts, and I already know how they'll end up.
I have to name them according to what I already know they will do. I didn't want to be the lame stereotypical fantasy/sci-fi author and make up names. I wanted them to have substance.
Instead of Bob, she got a very special name that means either 'completely free' or 'God answers'. These seem random until you know who she is.
She is a unique young woman who showed up in her town years before as a lost little girl. All she had was a first name, and no one ever found out where she belonged. She grows up to be free willed and impetuous (completely free), and through the story, she ends up being the salvation (God answers) of my bad guy. It's perfect! And it took me forever to find that name!!
All I knew, going into the intense 7 month period it would eventually take to find a name for her, was that I didn't want it to sound too modern or too American, and I liked 'A's. I trolled websites and name books for months before a friend mentioned a name she liked but couldn't use for any future daughters due to some awkward initial issues.
I really liked the sound of it, so I went home and looked it up online. Low and behold, the meaning was exactly what I wanted. And after I finally got her name (the more complex a character, the more important the meaning of the name, the longer it takes), her two companion's (whom I'd been calling Mac and Joe up to this point) names quickly followed suit.
It's incredible, really. I know I was given my name for a very special reason, and it has indeed guided my life a lot. I suppose I could buck it, if I wanted to. But then it would be ironic.
Just kidding. sort of.
Actually, I wouldn't really want to fight my name's meaning. I think its affect on my life has blessed the people near to me. And I like that idea.
In my book, my characters' names define what they will do. If the real world is like that, then I think we might want to pay a bit more respect to names and their meanings.
Who knows when our destinies may catch up with us.