This is topic changing names of characters, objects, cities. in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by walexander (Member # 9151) on :
So here's the question. If you had written what you feel was a strong short story or novel, with characters you enjoy, how set do you feel a writer should be with the names?

I recently got irritated by the fact that a certain popular series released a new series and that there are a couple of names that match to a new book I have been writing. Now I am faced with do I adjust these names or not in mine. One name would be to me probably not reflected to another series but if you have more than one (And what are the odds!!) You have to adjust it don't you just to stave off any finger pointers. Just like their will never be another wizard named harry with out finger pointing.

What can you do? You have to adjust it right? Even though you had the character names long before the other book was released, but that won't matter in the court of public opinion. It's really a matter of who is published first.

I hate to fall in love with a name and then you find out you need to change it in fear of plagiarism.

Thoughts anyone?
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, man.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Name selection generally probably asks little consideration from writers beyond basic label qualifications and even then often overlooked significance matters. Other writers go to great name selection pains.

Consider name research, what's in a name? Origin, place, time, and situation of use, what the name means, is the name relevant to contemporary times and readers, relevant to character and action development? What does the name signify? A dynamic verb's significance is often ready made and rarely insignificant. Static verbs are vice versa. Significance, re: signal and reception, memorableness, agency's influence, mythology, and representation -- symbolic or emblematic.

Noun significance follows the same functions though names are in and of themselves insignificant unless they stand for some mythology that characterizes a persona or object, action, etc. Likewise sentence objects are of lesser significance than verbs, due to being adjectival, noun-like phrases. Verbal phrases, adverbials, are less significant than predicates and verbs, though more than nouns and adjectival phrases.

What's in a name? Harry Potter? Didn't used to be much to speak of, did it? Now the name has powerful significance. Harry, short for Harold, contemporary English origin, "herald," a town crier or other announcer-messenger person and role. "Potter," obviously, a clay artisan. Put together the two nouns represent a scribe who documents circumstances on clay tablets. Probably not J.K. Rowling's intent, rather, an every-person kind of a name for Western society, like John Smith. Unobtrusive and plain that is memorable and likable.

"Voldemort" has ominous undertones from its alien and strange connotations at least. The hard consonant and vowel inflections make it kind of emotive too. Vole-de-mort -- a tiny burrowing creature of death.

Significance can either be borrowed or developed. If borrowed, names come with ready made significance -- only that readers need be immediately some small degree aware of their relevance and meaning to an action. If an unknown or plain name, more timely and judicious mythology development is warranted.

What do the names represent and signify overtly and covertly? Hitler's significance is overt, near global if of somewhat different than usual perspectives to niche interests. bin Laden, Genghis Khan, Mao, Benedict Arnold, Henry VIII, or Morgan, Arthur, Merlin, Ben Franklin, Marie Curie, Plato, Florence Nightingale, Chesty Puller, ad infinitum.

Plagiarism is use of someone else's creation whatever, milieu, idea, content, etc., and represents it as one's own creation. Parody uses someone else's creation, acknowledges its creator, and makes social or cultural commentary or jest about the original creation. Transformative.

Although names do matter, they matter least to plagiarism unless they are akin to trademarks. Common names are common. Uncommon names are uncommon. Invented names are invented. And not much instant significance difference between the three.

By all means, change the names to persecute the guilty, don't change the names to maintain personal artistic integrity, or consider the names' imports and relevance to the action and meaning thereof. Or some from column A, a few from room II, several from queue the tertiary.

[ November 22, 2015, 07:55 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by pdblake (Member # 9218) on :
I'm with wetwilly. So long as your names fit with the setting it doesn't matter whether Tom becomes Dick or even Harry. Though it is annoying when you have what you think is something pretty cool and then have to change it because someone beat you to it [Smile]

That said, if you managed cool first time around you're capable of doing it again.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Sometimes names do reoccur, in real life as well as fiction. I've known half a dozen George Harrisons, personally and by reputation. You find something that suits you and your character and the milieu the character is in, and use it.

(An Ellery Queen whodunit short story from the 1930s had a character named Harry Potter, for what it's worth.)
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
As far as wizards go, there's Harry Potter and Harry Dresden. Very different characters, very different stories. As long as it's not the full name that's shared, it's probably not really an issue. In real life I've known four different Johns, two different Jacobs, three different Franks, two different Heathers, several Elizabeths, and that's just for a start.

On the other hand, if you really feel the renaming is necessary, go for it. It's your story, and I know you want it to do as well as it can. In the end, what's best for the story is what you think is best for the story.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Could you change the way the names are spelled (so they sound the same to you, but look different as read)?
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
I know of a few authors who would choose the name, and then build the character around it.

I personally have always created the situation, then the character to cause that situation, and finally give them a name. Half the time, the names came out of the keyboard as I was typing them.
Generally, for me, names are of low priority for a vast majority of my characters. They were just handles to tell who was doing what apart.

It really depends on how you develop your characters and choose their names.

It is a bit of a pain to change a name. With some names, a "search and replace" of the name is easy, but if the name is something simple as Bill, it can be a line to line search as you will be looking at billion, billiard, phone bills, and so on (I've done a search and replace on a simple name and the corrections of misapplications took hours.)

There are some names that in essence, becomes copyrights even if they are not. Using James T Kirk, for example will get you a lot of angry letters by Star Trek fans. Harry Potter, for example will also get angry letters.

How you chose the names you have, will have more to do with whether you change them or not.

Hi, I am CONAN THE ACCOUNTANT. I will squeeze the taxes out of your finances so hard they will whimper like little girls.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I remember a commentary (might've been by Marion Zimmer Bradley) about once using the first name "Race" for a macho-type lead character---and realizing it was probably short for "Horace" and adding a dimension to the character previously unconsidered.

Didn't come up in the discussions, but it made me wonder about other characters named "Race"---Race Banyon from "Jonny Quest" comes to mind---and their backgrounds...
Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
A bit late to this but:

I was going to add that there are two Harrys who are wizards but someone beat me to it. Actually there was and may still be a web site dedicated to Wizards named Harry.

But I think Kathleen has a good suggestion.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
When you change names, be aware that you're not just changing the name. You're changing how it interacts with every sentence that contains it -- because you wrote each sentence to read right with the sound and mindfeel and perhaps even the visual shape of that name. Changing a name can therefore have considerable impact on how it all reads. So don't just do a search-and-replace and call it good, because it might not be. (Same with objects, cities, etc.)

Originally posted by rstegman:

Hi, I am CONAN THE ACCOUNTANT. I will squeeze the taxes out of your finances so hard they will whimper like little girls.

This is now officially my favorite Conan. [Big Grin]
Posted by AndrewR (Member # 1563) on :
Conan the Accountant, eh? Oh well, better than Wolverine the Accountant.

"I'm the best at what I do. But what I do isn't very interesting." [Smile]

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