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Character names used by famous authors


Just a quick little question. What do you think about the use of (pre-exisiting) names, already used by famous authors?
In my case, this is the name "Dagny" which I think fits one of my characters very well, but there's also a character in one Ayn Rand's novels bearing this name.
Would you see this as a problem?


A name is a name at the end of the day. Then again if the author has copyrighted a specific name then there might be trouble ... I'd say go with it for now, because frankly you could just call it a friendly tribute or something like that =P


Well...It really depends on who your audience is going to be. If you're planning on submitting the work to be published, I would either nix entirely or take a very serious consideration before using a distinctive name that's been used in a previously published work. There's a practical side to this: Is your character Dagny anything like her predecessor? Anyone who's read Atlas Shrugged will recognize the name and wonder if you're making an homage...And if your character and Dagny Taggart don't match up, don't be surprised if there's some disappointment from your readers.

In journalism and literature, there's an issue when you reference certain brands in writing, like Kleenex instead of tissues, Coke instead of soda, etc. etc. I would assume the same for literary names, and avoid the issue entirely. Then again, I also consider it a point of pride to try and come up with original or clever names. My advice: avoid temptation entirely. You'll dodge giving publishers any hesitation about publishing your work, and potentially alienating readers.


For Dagny specifically, I don't think there is any harm in using it - though if you want to avoid trouble, go with Dagon or something. No doubt the Ayn Rand character is the most famous with the name, but to be fair, I don't know how many people would hear the name and actually think of the character. I've read Atlas Shrugged - I've written essays on Atlas Shrugged - and I didn't even know who the hell Dagny was until I googled it. Most people I've spoken with about the book just call him Taggart. I think these days, Ayn Rand is only really read by libertarians and people who really hate libertarians, and the movies certainly aren't gaining many fans, so I don't think the connection is going to be obvious unless you are writing something with a political agenda similar to Rand's.

In general, unless it is a very famous name (you can never name a character Romeo without forcing people to think of Shakespeare's Romeo) or a character in a similar series, genre, and/or role to your character (don't write a fantasy story about a schoolboy named Harry), it probably isn't going to be a concern. At worst, they get that brief laugh "oh, like so-and-so", and move past it. For a name like Dagny, I don't think the crossover is going to be any worse than if you named the character Carina; there's probably a few people who know a Carina who'll take pause to acknowledge the name, but it will be forgotten.


Dagny? No. Bilbo? Probably.

Depends mostly on whether or not (1) the author made up the name, (2) the name couldn't easily have been made up from any other existing historical/linguistic roots by anybody working in the same area, and (3) how closely that name has come to be associated with the author's character.

In this case: (1)–no. Dagny is in my baby name book… without so much as a reference to Rand, even. So it's clear. Don't even need to worry about the other two.

In the case of Bilbo, by comparison: (1)–arguable. "Bilbo" exists as a last name in English, and as an alternate version of "Bilbao," a Spanish city. Its use as a first name, on the other hand, may be unique to Tolkien: I don't know for sure. ("Frodo," by the way, is not: it's definitely historical.)
(2)–certainly not… because of the reasons under (1).
(3)–oh, yeah. You couldn't possibly name a character "Bilbo" in a fantasy story and not expect readers to immediately think of Tolkien's character. That doesn't mean you might not be able to get away with it in some other type of story, say a Western (where I think it would fit in nicely).

Cultural setting matters, too: name a character in the U.S. Midwest–or anywhere in the British Commonwealth–"Jesus," and it will have a completely different connotation than if it's the name of a Hispanic character… since it's one of the most common names for boys in Spanish-speaking countries. Same thing with "Romeo": no matter how heavily associated it is with Shakespeare, the fact is it's not too uncommon as either a first or last name. However, if your readership is mostly familiar with English-language literature (which, I think, is the default assumption we have to work with here.…:rolleyes: ), then you should probably expect them to think of the Shakespeare character first when they see it, even if they quickly move on from that impression.

You can name a young man "Harry" any time you like. Make him an apprentice wizard and you could be pushing your luck… except that "Harry" (or "Henry") is such an overwhelmingly common English name that as long as it isn't your main character, and doesn't share any other defining characteristics with the better-known lad, it still probably won't matter in the end.

Name a young female apprentice wizard "Harriet Potter," and you're begging for a lawsuit. As well as the ridicule of your peers. Both of which would be well-justified. :D
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Personally, I don't use names pre-existing out of respect for the authors that published them first. Say, if people saw Drizzt Do'urden or something and just decided to use something near it, even if the audience didn't know the other character, it's almost blatantly stolen from the original author. And I find that personally distressing. Last thing I want is someone to admit to stealing a name I came up with (probably making their character with my created name more popular of the two). But say, for like the name "Durin". I wanted it, but it was in Tolkien's work, but I found it in various other books (and it probably has a sort of latin meaning or something), so at that point I would find it all right to use it as it was made 'common'. So for certain one-of-a-kind sounding names (that don't appear in baby name books or in other published novels), if I must have it, I change it.

I had the name Menion from the Sword of Shannara I wanted. Wasn't sure I should use it, so I did eventually alter it to sound somewhat the same, but the spelling was entirely different.


Thank you all. (Even we though we have the button for this ;))
I've decided to call her something else after all. I haven't grown too familiar with the character till now and now I've decided to call her Alrun which is also a Germanic-based name that doesn't end with an "a" and not with "hild" or "trud" which makes me think of old women immediatly either.
I don't think she has much in common with Ayn Rand's character at all, and it might not fit very well anyway.
But now I have a new problem and that's the name "Elric". ;) Elric is listed on baby name sites but is also someone else's fantasy main character.


Don't worry too much about that one. If it's on the baby name sites, it is free. Either way, Elric is close to Eric and other variations of the name, it should be fine, though a different form of it would be better.
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"Elric" isn't in the name book I have—it may have made it onto baby name sites as a result of the Moorcock novels. (Which is why I use books. "Darth" isn't in my book, either, but I'll bet you can find it out there.) Unless you're hopelessly enamored of it, switch it to something similar but sufficiently different it doesn't immediately draw the connection… "Erlich," maybe? Not likely anybody would even connect the two.


Okay, no Elric either.
Erlich doesn't really work because it looks like a miss-spelling of the German word "ehrlich" which means honest. This would be too crudely a "meaningful name" in my opinion. And Erik is too common for my taste.
But there are so many names around, I'm surely going to find one. ;)


Alric. Perfectly good Germanic name. (Or Alrich, Ulric(h), etc.) Probably where Moorcock got the idea for his name from.

(Erlich actually reminds me of the author Louise Erdrich—another perfectly good Germanic name, though what she's noted for is the Native American half of her background—but I doubt most people would make that connection. Great author, by the way, from what little of hers I've read. Track down her short story "Fleur" for a good example.)


Personally - if I had trouble with naming characters, I'd be seriously worried about the direction of the novel's actual content. Infact, I'd be quite terrified. I merely flip words, rearrange them, sometimes scramble them about and whatnot. That usually generates some kind of unique name for me.


I don't think any of us will be using Harry for awhile... and I ain't only meaning Dresden. :)

I like how GRRM takes normal names and makes them standout Jon Snow is a good example. It just has that "ring" to it. Brent Weeks' Durzo Blint is another great name that just has that "ring".


If it's obvious like the others have said, like Harry, it's to be avoided, but then also from a characterization pov the name should
hold significant meaning whether that be invented by the writer or searched through the etymology websites