Should I change my character's name because my new colleague has the same name?

Question: I've been writing a novel for a while, but recently, I met a new colleague who has the same first name as the male protagonist. It's really weird and I'm considering whether I should change the male protagonist's name.I'm not worrying about legal problems, but I do worry about what other people around me would think.


On one hand, I believe that fiction is fiction, and there's only a very limited number of names in English. That name is a common name and there's probably millions of people in the world who has the same name. Even if I changed it to something else, it is inevitable to have other people with the same name.

But on the other hand, it could be awkward because it seems like he's the only one I know who has this name. Imagine if one day you find out that a woman you know writes a novel with a hero who has the same first name as you, and that character eventually ends up with another character who's probably based on her (though with a different name), what would you think?
Should I change that name? or not?

Answer: As Shakespeare said...

"That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet."

Changing the name is a relatively easy and painless way to avoid awkward conversations or misunderstandings. After all, if your book gets published, you might spend years explaining to other people that you didn't borrow your colleague's name -- and the colleague might not believe you.

Of course, this sort of situation happens. By one account, Harry Potter was the name of one of J.K. Rowling's childhood friends. So sometimes it's just fine.

On the other hand, if your character is a pedophile or an axe murderer, and your colleague by sheer coincidence gets suspected of committing such a crime, the damage you may have caused his reputation could come back to bite you. Even if your character is merely dislikable, lies to his wife, or acts in any immoral or unethical way, offense could be taken.

Changing the name is just plain safer.

Comments for Should I change my character's name because my new colleague has the same name?

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Mar 14, 2016
Change it
by: Mark Francis

Additional to the above answer - I think another problem might be that your colleague's personality might skew your writing so that the two become confused in your own mind. The number of alternative names are potentially effectively infinite so find another one.
That said some of my colleagues have been asked to be written in as characters, although since my own novels are based on real characters about 80% are historical figures sometimes I would have to keep with the original.

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