I did something today that I’d been thinking of doing for a while: changed my main character’s name. Jassmyn Stewart is now Jassmyn Sharma. There’s a reason for this.
I originally gave my heroine a European surname because the Mars of my invented future is the ultimate “melting pot.” People from all over Earth move there to get a new start; these people meet, fall in love, have kids, and hey presto, surnames are no longer the indicator of ethnicity that they once were.
But I began to realize that, short of explicitly describing my heroine’s appearance in terms of ethnicity, it would be very hard for a reader to remember that she is of Indian origin.
What finally prompted me to make the change to a more typical Indian surname was the uproar over the casting in “The Hunger Games.” Some fans were outraged that Rue had been “changed” to be black. The funny thing? She’s described in the book as having satiny brown skin and dark eyes. Suzanne Collins made the choice, correctly I think, to not specifically state the ethnicity of her characters, but to make it obvious from the descriptions. The problem, of course, is that readers don’t always catch what is obvious to the author.
Jassmyn is a strong woman of Indian origin who lives on Mars. Hopefully the name change makes this clear.