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  1. maereth
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    maereth New Member

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    searching your characters' names in google?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by maereth, Aug 15, 2014.

    Do you search the names you choose in google to see what might come up and would you change the name because of the results?
    I just googled one of the names and it turns out some murderer whose case was heavily featured in the UK a couple years back has this name. So I'm trying to find a replacement, but I've grown so fond of the name it's too hard ;( and anyway, those I came up with still belong to people who are more or less popular for different reasons... should I be bothered that a potential reader might google the name and be put off because of the connotations? Please share your thoughts on this matter.
     
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  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Absolutely. And I recommend everyone do this -- you never know if the name you came up with came to you because you heard it somewhere but don't remember. Or if by coincidence, your character is some huge pop star or sports hero in some other country.

    I'm not afraid a reader will google my character's name, but that they will already be familiar with the person with that name and wonder WTF I was thinking when I made him a character in my story.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've not worried about that yet because I haven't decided on the surnames of my characters. But I do avoid names that make me think of anyone I know.

    And I have researched the names of the "1%" because some of my characters are descended from them. But I've not chosen family names yet. I plan to use some derivative of those names but not the exact names, and not the most well known names.
     
  4. maereth
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    maereth New Member

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    Yeah that's actually more likely... so do you think it shouldn't be used if say, it belongs to a Canadian hockey player and I give it to a British college student who's a bookworm or whatever, I mean some names are just common and there is always a chance someone somewhere has them but as long as it's not Paris Hilton or Kate Middleton, do you think I should avoid giving my characters names that belong to someone fairly popular?
     
  5. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I make sure that the full names of my important characters return no Google results at all. The purpose of a name is to identify, and it serves that purpose best when a Google search for it identifies exactly one thing.
     
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  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's better to avoid anyone who's relatively well known, or especially is well-known for something bad. For one thing, if there are any other similarities, the person could have a claim against you for using their likeness/name without their consent or for defaming them or something. But, beyond that, and even more likely, is that someone who knows the famous person would be distracted by the name, and you don't want to distract the readers or take them out of the story for any reason. And a name change is such a simple fix -- you should be able to come up with a name that has a similar "feel" to the name you originally picked. And you might not have to change the name all that much.

    As you say, of course there are common names, and almost everyone has the same name as someone else. (Or sometimes dozens or hundreds of people -- look at the commercial that features a whole bunch of people named Ronald McDonald.) So it's not a problem if it's just some podiatrist in Omaha who shares your character's name. But if it's someone that a lot of people are going to know, it's better to just change it.
     
  7. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    I need to get in the habit of this better before I settle and get attached because I've done this a few times with movie characters by accident, and like you, it's a bummer to have to change once you know your character. My most recent one was "Cressida Bailey" and it turns out there is a very minor character in the movie Hitch called Cressida Baylor. It was completely unintentional but bugged me enough once I realized that I changed her surname...it's not like you hear Cressida every day so it was obviously a subconscious pairing. I've yet to do this with an unknown-to-me person of fame, but have found some "twitter" names and the like match a character once in a while. That to me is as random as common folk in a phone book and I don't worry about those minor coincidences. Your example of the Canadian hockey player would be enough to make me switch part of the name (even if just the pre/suffix) but that's my urge for originality taking over.
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, it's great when there are no hits at all, but if, for example, you're writing a story about some family that belongs to a particular ethnic group in the United States, you might want a name that a lot of people are going to happen to have -- like if you're writing about an Irish American family, you might want to have a character named Timothy Murphy or Erin O'Malley, even if there are a lot of people who happen to have that name and will show up in a google search. You just don't want to have one be already so famous that it distracts.

    (There's a funny bit about this in the movie Office Space, with the character Michael Bolton.)
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I haven't done this sounds interesting, but the reason I don't use my real name is that when I googled it I noticed it has become someone's name for a character in a book series - a sexy vampire hunter:rolleyes:

    What I hate though is my mc from my book in the 90's was named Dexter which I got from Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story - C.K. Dexter Haven but now everyone will think ( if I ever finish it ) that I got the name from Dexter the t.v. series.
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, but the series has been off the air for a few years, so time may work in your favor. And unless he's a serial killer, or named Dexter Morgan, I don't think it would be that much of a problem. Unless you're making up a totally new name that no one has ever heard of, most common names belong to lots of people. I'm really only worried about a first and last name match. (Plus in your story you could always even explain the name -- that the character's mother loved The Philadelphia Story. It could make for a really great scene. And even give you more character names, like all the character's siblings were named for Cary Grant roles.)

    My MC's name is Jake Stein, and I googled and found plenty of Jake Steins. But none were particularly renowned or super famous. So I'm pretty sure I'm good.
     
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  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've totally done this - especially to verify that I'm not subconsciously stealing the name of a public figure. I've also done it just to see if names that pop into my head randomly actually exist ("Dragovich" as a last name). I've also done it to verify that a first name I selected matched the religious sect of the character (That one is a long story - I have a Jain character whose first name was meant to be "Vidya" which I had selected from a list of Jain baby names. A week after I started writing Vidya, I wrote the character again without looking at my previous writing and mis-remembered her name as "Vinya". I then kept writing and developing Vinya as a character for two months or so, before finding the original piece in which I invented her and finding that her name was "Vidya". I decided I liked Vinya better but had to verify that it was an actual name in Hindi - which thank goodness it is, although more obscure in origin and meaning - and I then had to verify that there were Jain people named Vinya...which since my character's actual name is "Vinya Jain" I typed that in and found two Facebook records of real people named Vinya Jain - at which point I was satisfied in keeping the name :p )
     
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  12. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Weird side-note - that one letter change mattered heavily to Vinya's character.

    "Vidya Jain" came across as comedic and awkward - mostly because the D-Y combination has a weird bouncy feeling on my English-speaking tongue and that caused me to associate the character with awkwardness.

    "Vinya Jain" rolled much smoother off my tongue, without a hard break between the two syllables - and the character quickly developed herself as smart, confident, fashionable, and popular.

    I don't think "Vidya" would have developed the same way - she'd have been interesting but she wouldn't have been Vinya.
     
  13. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    How long does that take?

    Also, have you ever found a name that fit your Google search criteria, but did not fit the story and/or character nearly as well as a less-"original" name?

    Obviously, a well-known name is not ideal. I would never write a story with a character named Bruce Dickinson (unless, of course, I was writing a biography on Iron Maiden), nor would I invent characters named Mary Smith or Bob Williams.

    My approach is to first come up with a name that fits the story and character the best, and then make sure that name was not already made famous by someone I just never knew about. I'll alter the name to something similar but different enough if I have to, but if the most famous person on Google with that name is the owner of a floral & gift shop in Lubbock, TX...I'm going to use the name and not feel bad about it.
     
  14. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    Writing a young adult novel who will be authored by the MC gave me a bit to think about. I began by searching popular baby names from fourteen years ago to find a first name that would resonate with a good number of readers. As for the last name, it was kind of forced as I'm trying to allude to something and the last name was important to the story so I didn't have much leeway there. What I did do however, was check facebook (which I have never been on before) and found that one variant of the last name had 472 hits and another had only one. I went with #2 and plan on creating a facebook page for my main character.
     
  15. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Interesting! I've never done this before, but I guess it is a good precaution, especially if the name combination (first + last name) belong to someone famous or notorious, wouldn't want to name your MC Mrs. Isabella Cullen :rolleyes: Though I dispute that this is really all big a deal. Names should be more relevant to your character and plot, keeping in mind the setting and cultural background you're trying to depict. To expect that no one would have that name on the face of the Earth, is a bit megalomaniacal to be fair, because even Morgan Freeman isn't that unique. Plus, I really doubt someone would bother Google your MC's name, unless it reminded them of someone or they were in love with your novel, and in case of the latter I'm sure the top result would be the novel in question :p

    For kicks, I googled my MC's name. Just social networking profiles, but here's a sample of one of the many image results:
    [​IMG]
    My MC is a white police officer. So should I change the name because of this image result? :p I couldn't care less.
     
  16. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    True. So far, I have had the luxury of not caring about characters' ethnic backgrounds, and really the only concerns when choosing a name are aesthetics and the function of identification.
    Pretty long, sometimes. Upwards of an hour. It often feels like entering username after username into a popular website when trying to sign up for it and getting the dreaded "username already taken" message.
    No. I use relatively common first names. (If I were to guess, they are probably typically in the top 1,000 most popular American baby names list, but not in the top 100.) But I use last names that are obscure or completely made up by me.
     
  17. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    :agreed:
    I've just done this (to see what happened). My book was the 16th result returned on a google search!

    Quite proud of that!
     
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  18. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    OK, this is scary smiley now. Searched the name of my other main character and google returned it as the third result!

    Result! :-D
     
  19. Annalise_Azevedo
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    Annalise_Azevedo Member

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    Searched for the majority of my characters' names. None of them were popular except for one who's a minor character on a TV show. In fact, since I made up some of my characters' first name I found out that they were real names :)
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    In a world with as many people in it as we have, it's inevitable that someone somewhere, will have the same name as your characters. (Unless you have a completely made up name like, Yuriltses Hogoniliva ...)
     
  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I remember googling 'Westerson' to see if it was an actual surname. Turns out, it's the surname of a medieval mystery/gay mystery author named Jeri Westerson.

    I could still use it, but I'd have to keep in mind that people who know Jeri Westerson would see my character's last name and think, "Hey, that's Jeri's last name!" To spice things up a bit, the surname of one of my fantasy characters is 'Jerni', which is basically

    I've also googled other names such as for my fantasy character 'Arjun' and apparently it's the name of an actor from India, as well as one of the protagonists of the well-known Indian epic called Mahabharata. Again, I could still use this name, but it'd be like someone using the name Gilgamesh as the name of one of their characters; people will wonder if there's any correlation between the Gilgamesh/Arjun of the ancient epic versus this Gilgamesh/Arjun.

    I've also made up names that either sounded too similar to a race in another piece of work (my Devonians to George Lucas' Deveronians), or names that already exist in other media (Nepuria exists in another book, and Karita is the name of a NPC in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.) That said, I could probably get away with the latter so long as my Karita is not exactly like Skyrim's Karita. The reason I say this is because Matrix: Reloaded and The Legend of Zelda both have a character named Link. However one of them is a control operator and the other is a Hylian in green who saves a kingdom.

    So all in all, use your best judgement. Not everyone's going to take it kindly if they see their own name in your book, or the name of a well-known person (good or bad) in your book. That said, I imagine if you're writing for your own pleasure, you're free to have a character named Harry Middleton in your book.

    EDIT: @sunsplash has the right idea. Don't get too attached to your character's names, because you might have to change them.

    EDIT II: If you changed the spelling of the name, could you get away with it? Like what if I took my character 'Arjun' and renamed him so phonetically it sounds the same, but the spelling is different?
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2014
  22. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    @Link the Writer Arjun is a VERY commonplace Indian name. It's like the English version of George in commonplace-ness. It won't stand out as "famous" or " unique" in anyway, but yes, it would definitely tell the reader your character is Indian.
     
  23. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Every time. Names you like may be criminals, politicians (or both), pornographers, cultists, popular, celebrities, or something that already exists. If it is common enough, it sticks, but if the name would draw attention, or is similar to a character, that's a no-go.

    There are FAR too many names to duplicate a real person. Plus, you don't need to ride their coat tails.
     
  24. Pink-Angel-1992
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    Pink-Angel-1992 Active Member

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    There are billions of people currently alive and more are being born everyday. Also, there'll have been billions of people who've lived over the many thousands of years mankind haved existed for. Finding a name that is unique, which no-one has, will be extremely difficult, especially when you start factoring in the hundreds of books and all their characters. I'd say don't worry about it too much; even famous people will most likely share their name with someone else. I can see why people would recommend avoiding names well-known people have, but you could use it as some continuing joke or annoyance for your character. I don't see why you can't use a name if you really like it and want to, regardless who shares it.
     
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  25. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" doesn't apply when it comes to your characters in a book. When I am reading I like a name that is easy to remember, common, or at least easy to phonetically pronounce, so I can keep the story line straight. If a name is unfamiliar to you and a quick check doesn't reveal it as a major name in history for the era you are writing in, I would not think it matters.
     

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