1. aimlessramblings
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    aimlessramblings Member

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    Names and Places... (any legal issues?)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by aimlessramblings, Sep 21, 2010.

    Im working on a starting my first book, and i have general question. My book is going to be about a serial killer, and will be killing off possibly 7-10 victims in very horrific ways....

    Now my question is, while this is going to be completely Horror/SciFi, in no way related to real people.. How should i go about naming my Characters?

    My concern is that i might name one of my Victims " Jane Doe" and someone out there in the nut house named Jan Doe is going to see it and be like WTF! im not dead im suing .... how can i avoid this issue?

    is it better just to give characters first names, and forget about the last name?

    but then what about the FBI Special Agent, or the Officer in charge and so forth?


    .......

    also for you writers out there, when you are creating places, do you use current places, and names, how does that work? is better to create your own places along known areas?
     
  2. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    It's perfectly fine to use real names...I'm sure there were a few "Harry Potter"s about there who were a bit surprised, but I don't think they sued. Lots of people have the same name, so any names you choose will be a-ok!

    You can either use a real city or make up your own, whichever seems right to you. It might be easier to make up a city in this case, so you don't have to worry about people thinking it's based on a true story.
    Many writers, though, write about a place they know well, but then they might add a few details they made up (stores, neighborhoods, etc.)
     
  3. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    If you avoid using a popular first name with a popular last name, then you should be okay. However, if you want to be on the safe side, look up the names on google. If a whole pile of results pop up, you know you should change it. If only a few obscure sites come up, then the name should be fine.

    There is always a possibility that someone might have the same name as your character. Depending on the name, it's a very small possibility.

    Next, even though the name may match, the character himself might not match. If the character Peter Smith is an single, American, FBI agent, and the real Peter Smith sells real estate in London, and is married with two kids, the similarities are not close enough to cause any worry. There really wouldn't be a solid basis for suing.

    I'm not done yet. Let's say the character is quite similar to a real person. The similarities were not intentional (notice how the probability goes down with each step). What is the chance that person is going to read your book? If they do read your book, what is the chance they are going to sue you? Not everyone is set out to sue you. Some people don't mind having the same name as a character. Some might not even mind having the same name as a serial killer (In this case, the possibility of similarities should be way down).

    So go ahead, make up names, do a little research, and you should be fine.
     
  4. aimlessramblings
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    aimlessramblings Member

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    thanks for the feed back...
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you sure of that? I'm thinking that nobody will be offended if the villain is named John Smith, since it could refer to any of the thousands of John Smiths, but if the villain is called Starshine Winnipeg, the one and only real Starshine Winnipeg could claim it's referring to him.
     
  6. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Have you ever read any other crime fiction? They all use names that could belong to thousands of people worldwide.
     
  7. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    I'm not so sure about that. If someone sues you for using John Smith it's easy to justify it as a mere coincidence, but if in your novel you kill a Zacharias Y. Eccentric III, you better make sure it's an unused name.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Names are fair game otherwise people naming babies would have issues - they do with family and friends but not legal ones.

    I have a really common married name and my children are Ellie, Gabriel and Isaac - all quite popular names right now I am sure there are a few with the same names.
     
  9. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    That's why I said it "should" be okay. Nothing in this world is ever sure. I looked up Mr. Zacharias Y. Eccentric III, and didn't find anything, so a name like that "should" be okay. :)
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's OK regardless. Just walk through the aisles in the book store and start grabbing books off the shelves. If you look at books set in contemporary times, you'll see all sorts of characters who have names that plenty of people in the real world probably share.

    You really only run into trouble if the name you use is of a famous person, or if your character is so modeled on a real person whose name you've used that the character in the book is readily identifiable as that person (and in some cases, even then you have to disparage the person in some way for them to do much about it).
     
  11. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    There is no issue whatsoever about assigning names to people in novels, as evidenced by the fact that some two million novels portray people, and those people have names. Even if you get more specific it won't be a problem. For example, if you decide to describe Fred Bloggs as a bloke who is 54, lives in a flat in Smallsville, is 5'10" and skinny with gold teeth and one leg, then a person called Fred Bloggs who exactly or near exactly fits that description might think it's a problem. However, it would only ever be a problem for you, the author, if Fred Bloggs were able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you based the character on him. If the match was coincidental then there's no issue.

    The upshot being that unless you deliberately set out to include a real world character then in the grand world of novel writing, this is the smallest and most inconsequential problem you will ever, ever come across.
     
  12. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    You add a disclaimer by stating in the first couple of pages that the work is fiction. The characters are fictitious and nothing to do with persons of the same or similar name either alive or dead.

    Or words to that effect.

    You see it in books and in the credits on movie screens al the time.
     
  13. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    You add a disclaimer by stating in the first couple of pages that the work is fiction. The characters are fictitious and nothing to do with persons of the same or similar name either alive or dead.

    Or words to that effect.

    You see it in books and in the credits on movie screens al the time.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The disclaimer is pretty useless. If your work is based on real people, they can sue you, disclaimer or no, even if you change the names. But if you never knew the person someone is claiming your character is based on, or a jury isn't convinded your character is a close match to an acquaintence of yours, you're fine.

    Such lawsuits are rare unless you are pretty obviously writing about people you know.

    Name similarities won't get you in trouble unless it is obviously connected more than coincidentally to a real person. If your character is a Vegas lounge singer named Englewood Humperdor, Englebert Humperdink may take iussue with your portrayal.
     
  15. YoungCreature
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    YoungCreature Member

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    Now that is a good name.
     
  16. Jane Beryl
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    Jane Beryl Member

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    "Jane Doe" and "John Doe" are terms that government officials use to tag unidentified bodies. I don't think any Jane Doe would care if they used it, especially since most mystery dramas use the term constantly.

    Other than that, you could really pick any name, if you want to go into the meaning of each one I would recommend to you behind the name.com, it's really fascinating how many names you can find under the meaning of "death", etc...
     

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