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.
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?