Naming Characters

by Barbara
(Gualala, Ca. USA)

Question: I wrote a novel based on something that happened to me. I named the characters by their real names. Am I supposed to give them fictitious names?

Answer: The risk of using the names of real people in your book is that some of the people might take objection to your portrayal of them.

Most serious is if the book could be considered defamatory. I'm not a lawyer, and cannot give legal advice, but my understanding is that if you damage someone's reputation in a way that negatively affects their income, you run the risk of being sued.

Legal issues aside, there is the risk of creating enemies who might retaliate.

You say this is a novel, not an autobiography, which means you have fictionalized the real events and changed many of the details already. In keeping with that, you should probably fictionalize the characters as well.

Changing the names is just the start. For instance, it is often safer to change some of a character's traits so that it is not recognizable as the real person on whom it is based. You can also combine traits from several different people to create a fictional character who is unique.

It's just safer in the long run.

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