Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Every writer knows the importance of a character’s name in a story. Think Pansy O’Hara, instead of Scarlett O’Hara. We picture a quite different character when looking at these two names. These names are both fictitious. What I want to discuss today is using “real” names for our characters. Is this good or bad?

In my young adult historical novel, my major characters are fictional, so no problem there. I did use names such as Ulysses S. Grant, John Pemberton, and Jefferson Davis. Except for Pemberton, who has a very brief part, they’re only mentioned, not actual characters in the story. The setting is real and the siege of Vicksburg, Ms, actually occurred. The facts can be checked, so those I’m comfortable with.

The story that worries me, where I changed the names again and again, is my middle grade historical Scattered to the Winds. Since the story is loosely based on my mother’s life, I started out using her name. As it is her story, it seemed like the thing to do when I was writing it. Her brothers and sisters also have their real names, as do the parents and foster parents. Then I decided I might need to use fictional names, so I played with different names that were popular during the early 1900s. I wrote another draft of the story with the new names. It was not my mother’s story, though. So I went back to the original version, and it will be published using their “real” names.

After I sold the manuscript, panic set in. All of the characters are deceased now, most many years ago. It’s not that I say anything bad about them, but I still wonder how they would feel reading this part true, part make believe story with their names. And, since I wrote the story I have met some of the descendants of my mother’s foster parents. They call me “cousin” and are the nicest people. They’ve even given me a genealogy of the family. What will they think, however, when they read my story about their grandmother and grandfather? Much of the story comes from my imagination, because I know so little of the facts of their lives. The “cousins” know about my book. They’re waiting for it to be published, and I am scared.

What will they think? (Yeah, a bit late for me to consider this.) I hope they will like it. What if they hate it? Yes, I know, writers are notoriously insecure. Anyhow, what about you? Do you ever use “real” names in your stories? If so, are you nervous about it? Or has it turned out great?


  1. Once I used names of real people in a story but they all knew their names were in the story. Actually they were my critique partners and they weren't the main characters. This was a romantic farce and there was no problem only a lot of sales of the book.

  2. Great. A lot of sales is good. Sounds like a fun read.

  3. I'll be finding out once I finish my WIP. At two different conventions, I offered a chance to name a character at the convention's charity auction. Each time, the person with the winning bid wanted the character (each the friend of the main character in a YA) to be named for them.

    I had a character named for me in a friend's books - only he modified the spelling so much that I didn't catch it until he pointed her out. I thought it pretty cool - especially as she was an alien in the future. :)

  4. What a neat idea. I bet they're eager to see their names in your book. They'll tell all their friends. Their friends will tell and on and on. Good potential for sales.

    So you liked being a alien in the future. I think I'd consider it an honor for my name to be used in a friend's book. My sister once used my name (she writes for adults) but I was already dead in the story so didn't have much of a role. :)

  5. In EARRINGS my names did have meaning. Lupe is the nickname of Guadualupe which has a big meaning in some of the religious culture down in some Latino countries. Her mother Concha is the nickname of Concepcion. I also use other names of people and places that reflect some of the mesoamerican mythology/culture.

    In my current WIP I'm using names from the Latino community and playing around with some Spanish words too. My story is based in the future.

    Now on my other stories I ended up using names for the Baby list of most popular names of what time my character would have been born. I also used some names from my own class lists.

  6. I remember Lupe, but didn't know the meaning of her name, or her mother's. I think when you're using a certain culture you have to use the correct times.

    Ah, a futuristic novel. Sounds like fun.

    That's cool, using names from your class lists. Reckon anyone will recognize them?

  7. I took the Spanish names from some of my bilingual class lists. They probably won't recognize them as the names are common with the culture. I'm using Esperanza or Espie for my WIP. Her name means hope which is fits my character perfectly.