The Dangers of Naming Characters After Friends

Yesterday morning, I got an email from my mother. She’s been compiling all the comments from beta readers for Chasing Nonconformity (you rock, mama!), and during this activity she came to the realization that I have yet to name a character after her.

Oh dear.

This arose as a result of my naming one of the characters in the sequel “Akaeli”, which was inspired by my roommate Kaleigh. I have a habit of calling her name in a sing-song voice when she walks through the front door, and have grown very fond of her name as a result. Hence, I borrowed her name, alienized it, and stuck it in Chasing Nonconformity.  I would like to note that the character wasn’t based on her in any way, shape, or form — her name just inspired the character’s name.

Which brings me back to my mother, who put forward the question: Why have I named a major character after my roommate, but none after my own mother/editor/manager/life-giver?

The basic reason I gave her is that I haven’t named a character after her because I don’t name characters after people. Sure, I’ll honor my friends by throwing in their name as like a school name (Barlow Collegiate Institute!) or a kind of pudding or something, but I don’t do that with characters. Characters get names that fit them, that work with the story and the setting and the culture. If one of my friends’ names gets twisted around into a major character, it’s not because I felt a pressing need to insert them in the story, or because I have chosen to honor them above all others — it’s because I enjoy the way their name sounds, and think it goes well with the character.

Mother accepted my reasoning, as she is an eminently reasonable woman, and the topic was put to rest. So, all’s well that ends well.

What about you guys? Have you named characters/buildings/stuff in your books after friends? And if so (or if not!), what have your friends said in response?


Unrelated link of the day:

Funny article about romance hero tropes: Things I’ve Learned About Heterosexual Female Desire From Decades Of Reading


Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on “The Dangers of Naming Characters After Friends

  1. I did it a lot with early stories. Then the friends started putting their input into the character creation and I stopped. Occasionally, I put someone into the book as a background character for one reason or another. Not a big fan of it though.

    • Also you write high fantasy, so borrowing modern names and sticking them into a medieval setting would be very out of place. I shudder to think of friends trying to tell you how to deal with their characters. General input on the overall book while beta reading? Absolutely. “This is my character, you need to do this with them” — bleh.

      • *looks at characters named Luke, Aedyn, Clyde, Darwin, etc.* I didn’t even know that was a high fantasy rule. 🙂

        At the time, I was doing superhero sci-fi with magic in there. The idea created one book, which I P.O.D’d out of college and that was it. Might revive the characters for a future Windemere tale.

  2. I do a lot of background research on the names I pick for my major characters. Only then after 200 pages are written do I realize that a character shares a name with someone I know an I have to say ohhhhhh coconuts! I hope they don’t think this character is based of them. I really shouldn’t be as friendly of a person, then I wouldn’t have this problem.

    • Hahahaha. That’s when you go into full denial mode — no, I’m sorry, I had NO idea that was your name … Wait, that wouldn’t work at all, then they’d just be mad you didn’t know their name, lol.

  3. I’ve been known to call background characters (whose names come up but we never actually meet them) after friends, just so I don’t waste a ton of time trying to seek out “the perfect name” when it doesn’t much matter. Otherwise, I mostly try to keep my so-called real life and fictional life separate, and since I view the name as being a rather vital part of the character, I prefer to isolate said name from any associative taint.

    • I like your stance on this! And yeah, that’s generally where the friend names pop up — oh, they need to go to XX convention center, ummm, hey Steve, can I borrow your dog’s name? Great, thanks.

  4. Reblogged this on D.E. Cantor.

  5. I never set out to name my characters after people I know. But this guy I recently met has this really cool nickname that works well in my work in progress for a character for whom I was trying to determine a nickname. The character is a delinquent fire-starter, a pyromaniac. The new friend’s nickname is Sterno. I think it works. I haven’t told him yet.

    • I like it! That’s the thing — if the name works, the name works. And there are just some darn cool names out there, up for the taking.

  6. Reblogged this on newauthoronline and commented:
    The danger of naming a character after a friend is, of course they may not like your portrayal and say “that isn’t me”. The situation is worse if one bestows the name of a friend on a character with significant flaws or a character who is, quite frankly an out and out rogue. Kevin

  7. As a rule, I do not name characters after people I know, because it limits what I do with them. I can be pretty mean to my characters – what if I suddenly decide to kill off the one named after my best friend? Would you take it as a subconscious desire to see her dead? Am I angry about something? What if I turned her into some murderous psychopath? Or had her turned into a fish? Or any other crazy possibility? She might not like it and I’ll be grudgingly trying to accommodate her. It’s easier just not to!

    • That’s a very good point. It occurs to me that should anything bad ever happen to Akaeli, I’ll have to warn Kaleigh first. Now that I’ve cleared up that she and the character are not the same, hopefully there won’t be any issues, but I’d still better be careful, lol.

  8. I wrote a short story for my blog and named one of my characters after my hairdresser. When i told him he thought it was really cool but when I got my haircut after he’d read it, well….lets just say my haircut wasn’t up to his usual standard. Maybe i am just being paranoid, but it felt like he didn’t appreciate what happened to ‘his’ character. To be fair, it wasn’t pretty….

    On the other hand i have based a character of a short story on my sister (but gave the character a different name) and my sister loved every word. (she knows the character is based on her.)

    • Hahaha I can’t believe he gave you a worse haircut because of your story. I mean, maybe if you tortured the character and clearly had a good time doing it, I’d get it … lol. You should write a follow-up story for him where he returns to the scene with chainsaws for hands and murders everyone who ever wronged him. He sounds like the kind of guy who’d like that. Heck, maybe you’d even get a free haircut out of the deal.

  9. No. I have no idea why I have always chosen not to use a familiar name of someone I know. I want the name to suit the character as well. Once or twice I have done so unconsciously and have been told by that person I’d used her name etc. What? I did? 😮

    • Wait, were the names you used really common names? Because if I name a character John, I know like 3 Johns, so the name is just a coincidence. Unless their name is like Gwynevera or something and you used it, in which case they might be onto something, lol.

      • Names like John and Mary, David, Kevin, Bob, Peter… Ack
        I know. I’ll need to make all my characters foreigners, just to be safe… 😮
        You’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t. I don’t know why I’ve t.r.i.e.d. to avoid names of people I know. Names like Sydney and Barney for instance (I don’t know any) depict certain astute personalities. I try to suit the name to the character and his foibles in the story–not always less-than-stellar name for either of these. 😀

  10. Naming characters after people turned out to be my most popular perk when I ran an Indiegogo campaign. Ah, the awesome power of being an author… 😀

    • My mom actually called me on that! When I wrote this post, she sent me an email going “I understand what you’re saying, but in your IndieGoGo campaign you offered to name a character after someone for XX dollars, so what you’re REALLY saying is you’ll only name characters after people if they pay you money.” To which I said “lol” and nothing else because damned if she isn’t right.

  11. I do not name characters after anyone I know…but sometimes things do work out that someone has the same name. (And then the person in real life wants to know why I named it after them.)

    • Hahaha I can just imagine that conversation. “Hey, Elizabeth, I noticed you named that character after me. And then you got the character eaten by sharks. So are you saying you secretly want me to be eaten by sharks?”

  12. I not only use the names of friends but family members as well. That crude Mama in my new series is most definitely modeled after my own mother. She loves potty humor!! However, I think your reasoning behind not using your mother’s name in a book is sound.

  13. I think it’s pretty sound advice. It’s kind of like not getting a tattoo with somebody’s name. I mean, theoretically it should be pretty permanent. But what if you name a character after someone, and then have a falling-out? Then every time you read that book, or think of your characters, or have to write another one, you’d think of that person. And you can’t exactly publish a new version with a main character’s name changed, like ‘Sorry guys, I broke up with my girlfriend/my friend and I had a terrible falling out, so I had to change this character’s name for my mental health. Sorry!’

    • OMG unless you can do EXACTLY that. From here on out, Eris’s name will now be Gertrude. Stop the presses and alert the media. Actually, I’m not even going to go back into the first 2 books and change it. From here on out, she’ll just be Gertrude, and I’ll never explain why. Ahahahahaha.

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