So, we know we should Google things like book titles to make sure they aren’t already taken. Website URL and domain names, usernames (this is why it’s nice when websites like WordPress or Twitter tell you that a username is already in use).
Up until a few days ago, I didn’t think I would have to Google the name of my protagonist to make sure that no one else had that name. I was fairly confident the name wasn’t in use. Well, I just found out that a Google search would have been a very good idea in this case. It wasn’t as bad as this, but still made me kick myself:
How did I find out? I was reading a critique on one of the online critique groups in which I participate. The critiquer pointed out it wasn’t a good idea to name my protagonist after Kurt Vonnegut’s “super-man” character. Now, I’ve read one or two of Kurt Vonnegut’s major novels, but never his short fiction, unfortunately, so I didn’t have a way of knowing I was using the name of a prominent Vonnegut character.
The protagonist in the novel I’m currently rewriting is named Georges Bergeron. He’s a werewolf with French origins so I wanted to give him an older French name that was more European. Vonnegut’s character is George Bergeron (without an ‘s’).
And I had no bloody clue.
Now, the question arises: Am I going to change the name of my protagonist in case there are others who would recognize the name of George Bergeron and accuse me of lifting it from a work that I’ve never even read?
Or do I consciously reflect on the fact that really, this is from a Vonnegut short story that, although I’m sure a lot of people have read, I’m not so sure how many fantasy or genre fiction fans would be familiar with? Obviously writers know not to name their protagonist something like Thor, Charles Xavier, Clark Kent, Diana Prince. There’s also such a thing as the “all persons fictitious disclaimer” that is included on the copyright page of most works of fiction.
However, it occurs to me that there may be legal implications if I say “screw it” and continue to use this name for my protagonist. And I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want to get sued over something like this.
What would you do, readers? Have you ever encountered this situation in which a name and surname you picked for one of your characters turned out to be taken by a big writer already? What would you do? Sound off below!