A few years ago I picked up a well-reviewed historical – I can’t remember the title anymore but I think it was a Western – and DNFed the book. There was nothing wrong with the book, stylistically or content-wise, but I didn’t even make it past the second chapter. The reason? The name of the hero and the heroine were the exact same name as the name of my husband and his sister. And they were going to have sex.
I also rejected an erotic novel which seemed, to me, to be starring my father-in-law.
I thought of this when, in a recent purge of my keeper shelf, I picked up two books I had owned since before I had children. This time, I do remember the titles, but I’m going to keep them to myself for privacy reasons. Both books were second-chance romances in which the heroes had been previously married, with a child. In each book, the hero’s child had died. And in each book, the dead child had the same name as my child.
I’m able to read romances with names I’m related to when those names are really common. I have relatives named Nick, but I also know people named Nick, and I’ve seen movies and read books about Nicks, and consequently I don’t have a very strong association with Nick. An author can kill a Nick, write a sex scene with a Nick, or make Nick a horrible skanky villain and I won’t twitch. I’m also okay with the formal version of names. My family has a William, and Williams turn up in romances occasionally, but I only call our William Billy. I’ve never seen a Billy as a romance hero. I can read Richard, Robert, and Edward with no reaction since I know mine as Rick, Bob, and Ed. And fortunately, a lot of my female relatives have names specific to time periods (Judy from the 1940s-50s, Tiffany from the 1980s) which are not much in use as romance novel settings.
What about you? Do you have name dealbreakers? Do you avoid sex scenes starring certain names or name combinations, or can you immerse yourself in the book enough to suspend disbelief? What about death, torture, and so forth? If that happens to a name you know, does it feel worse to you than a name you only associate with that character?