Name Theory: Reference Naming

I have never named a character after someone I know, and I would strongly suggest you never do it either. Many an author has been sued for naming a character after someone they knew or after a well-known person, or even after another character. And, even if your character isn’t like the person whose name you used, don’t use it because then they will just complain that “I’m not a prostitute, I’m a stripper.”

With all the names available for your characters, there is no reason why you should resort to stealing a name. Even if the name is “perfect” for the character, and even if you always think of the character by that name, you should stretch your creativity to find a suitable name that cannot be traced back to its source.

There are exceptions, of course. Using a version of a well-known person’s name or character’s name in a parody is acceptable use. Using a very common name is okay, as long as you don’t use the given and surname of an individual (or any of that person’s specific quirks). And you can reference a person who is relevant to your genre (e.g. use a well-known physicist’s surname as your sci-fi character’s given name) as an Easter egg for your readers.

But you should not use a living person’s name (or a trademarked name) without express—and preferably written—permission. Because while you may see it as harmless fun or a special honor, they might see it as embarrassing or—worse—as a libelous insult.

Remember the notes that you see on nearly every movie and book, and make sure your characters’ names are purely fictional and that … any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

That, or make sure you have a good lawyer on retainer.


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