Mister Atoz wrote:
Hey Mars Weeps, I heard once that writers have to base their character names on something they know -- a derivatiive of a friend, relative, or something with which they are familiar, otherwise they risk being SUED by someone with that actual name (who the writer has no knowledge of) for defamation of character. Is that right?
I've been a professional writer for 15 years and nobody's ever told me I had to do that.
As a rule, in TV and movies, a character name is only off-limits if only one real person in the country has that name, or if someone very similar to the character (same profession or same city of residence, say) has that name. For instance, Scott Bakula's Enterprise
character was changed from Jackson Archer to Jonathan Archer because there was only one Jackson Archer in the country. And the TV series of The Dresden Files
had to change Chicago Detective Karrin Murphy's name to Connie Murphy because there was a real Chicago detective named Karen Murphy (although that wasn't a problem for the books, probably because there's a lot less money and awareness involved and thus less risk of costly lawsuits). But TNG and DS9 were able to have a character named Miles O'Brien even though there was a CNN reporter named Miles O'Brien, because it was a common enough name and they were in different enough professions that it wouldn't be taken as a reference to that specific person.
Though wasn't Miles O'Brien the science reporter on CNN? Not an engineer, certainly, but it was pretty close.
It does happen that authors use the names of people they know from time to time, however. For instance, several people I know have characters named for them in Robert J. Sawyer's novels - one that comes immediately to mind is the character of Dr. Lloyd Penney, the forensic scientist in Illegal Alien
. The character is named and modelled after a Toronto fan and convention runner. The alien Hollus in Calculating God
is named for Peter Halasz, another Toronto-area fan and the driving force behind the Sunburst Awards for Canadian science fiction literature. I think there's also a Raymond Alexander in one of Rob's books - Ray is another long-time Toronto fan and convention runner. And I'm a character in the Tanya Huff novel The Better Part of Valor
(the fighter pilot, Lieutenant Commander Sibley - though why Tanya made me a fighter pilot, I'm not sure, because I don't even have a driver's license). Tanya even gave me the choice of whether or not my character would survive the book.
(You'll have to read it to find out.
Usually, it's done because the author wants to honour a friend. In my case, I actually won the character in a charity auction at a convention - I got into a bidding war with Peter Halasz, in fact. And just last weekend, Julie Czerneda donated naming rights to a character in an upcoming novel for the charity auction at the Constellation Awards ceremony.