Fix 6: Never Name a Character After Someone You Know

They say that you should write what you know, but most people take this advice in the very way it is not intended. They will write things based on their lives, or their friends or family. Generally this is interesting to almost no one, and ends up with a Mary-Sue more often than not. To tackle this whole topic would take pages and pages, so I’m picking on a smaller nit today: Don’t name your character after anyone you know.


One day I will write on why naming is important, but that’s for another day. All you need to know for now is that names have a power to them. To prove this point: have you ever been really absorbed into something, only to be pulled out of the trance when someone called your name?  Have you ever been walking in a crowd, and suddenly turn around because someone called your name, even if you don’t recognize the voice or person?


There’s a manga called Her Majesty’s Dog about a girl who has the power to control people if she knows their name. There are some cultures where they will not tell someone their name until they are friends, because they don’t want their name to be used against them. Names have power to them.


You should never name a character after someone you know because of the power names have. Your characters will take on characteristics of the people you know if you do. Now, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it does limit you. It’s harder to write characters to their fullest if you’re worried about how someone will react to reading a character that has their name.


I have a rule about not naming characters after people I know for this reason. I don’t want to feel bad about having a character be mean if the person I named them after isn’t. Also, the closer your portrayal is to a real person the more likely you are to get someone angry at you. You will get people angry at you if you’re writing your book well enough, because it means you have a very strong opinion in there somewhere, and not everyone will agree with your opinion. That being said, just think how bad it would be if your aunt gets upset because you named a villain after her?


Now, I have broken this rule before. Three times actually in recent memory. I had a character who was a priestess and I named her Saresh. Of course I don’t even know how to spell the real girl’s name, but ‘Saresh’ is someone I worked in the school library with. The character’s nothing like her, but the character’s also named Saresh when all the other names are greek or latin based. It just fit the character.


The second time was for a Tangled fanfiction I was working on. I went looking through German (Rapunzel is a German tale) monarchs around the time the story was set. I found a couple of King Williams, so I named the King William. The problem? That’s my father’s name, and a lot of the king’s development comes from him dealing with trying to get to know a daughter who grew up away from him, and the tragedy of never getting to raise his little girl.  I have other characters, some of whom are my favorite characters, who I can definitely see are based off my father, at least in some respects (mainly their relationships with their children). In the case of King William I was literally imagining how my father might feel given the same situation. Luckily the character is a good guy, and I have a good relationship with my parents… but it was still unnerving when I realized what I’d done.


The last one also for a fanfiction, one involving Scorpius Malfoy and a little sister. The girl doesn’t show up a lot, it’s mainly focused on Scopius and Draco’s relationship, but she does show up. Her name is Emily, which is my name. The problem is that it fit the girl very well. I don’t think the girl was a lot like me, and really her only point was to cause conflict. But you see how I have to explain this? Whenever you name a character after yourself or someone you know you instantly have to explain how they are like and not like the person in order to retain credibility.


You can name characters after people you know, but it’s actually really awkward. You have to work harder to maintain credibility. You are more likely to inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, and you are more likely to make a Mary-Sue (especially if the character is named after you). Over all, it’s just generally not a good idea. Thankfully there are millions and millions of names to pick from, so you should be fine.