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I've been writing a YA mystery book in which one of the three main characters is a detective—who now seems to share his name with another fictional character on TV.

I was pretty young when I came up for the idea for the characters, and wasn't really aware that there was another fictional character out there with the same name, let alone that he was on a fairly popular show. (Found out when I saw commercials that repeatedly used the name!)

My character has nothing to do with the one on TV; besides the name they only share the characteristics of both being white and male.

I really like that name anyways, since it fits my character so well.

If I tried to publish this someday, would I run into copyright/legal issues, even though my character is nothing like the one on TV? Would I therefore need to change his name?

Edit: the name itself is somewhat uncommon, but it's really just two fairly common names together. The first name is just Harvey, but put that with the last name and you get a character on a popular show (I only withhold it to save myself the embarrassment of having it on the Internet forever :) )

  • Is the name in question common or rare ? ("John Smith" vs "Azura McLopez") – Babika Babaka Aug 4 '16 at 10:20
  • Also, the odds of you finding a completely unique name for any of your characters is slim to none, so as long as you avoid the 'big names' in fiction (ex. Harry Potter, Luke/Anakin Skywalker, John Egbert, etc.) you should be fine. And, if you ever decide to publish and your editor discovers that the name you choose is heavily protected by some company, you can always change it later before the book hits the press. – Cyberson Aug 4 '16 at 16:20
  • It is not unlikely that you overhear a name somewhere without realizing it, get it planted in your subconsciousness and then later accidently pull it out when you need to name someone in one of your stories. To avoid this in the future, always google any names you come up with. That can save you from some very embarrassing blunders. – Philipp Aug 9 '16 at 16:06
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To contradict the other answers there is a difference between copyright and trademark law.

You may want to sell your YA novel to a major publisher or wish to see film & TV rights, merchandising or any ancillary revenue.

In that case do not name your character the same as a major TV character. I guarantee they have trademark protection (registered or not).

You can change the name now and find one that you like and fits your character. Plus it will give you a chance to get used to the new name.

You could change a few letters and Harry Potter becomes Perry Hotter the intergalactic spaceship captain, but it seems petty unless it's a parody or comedy.

I prefer to change either the first name or the surname of characters I discover too similar. So Mike Hammer becomes Mike Montag. He may even become Jack "Hammer" Montag if the story suits.

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Another aspect not mentioned by the other answers is that you might not want readers be reminded of that tv show.

Legal aspects aside, when I read a book that is not about J.K. Rowling’s young magician and the protagonist is called Harry Potter, I will constantly be reminded of that other fictional universe and compare this protagonist to that other, which will both undermine my attempts at make-believe and make the character appear as a charicature.

So unless the name of your protagonist is common in the real world and it is not the name of a protagonist in a bestselling book, movie, or tv show and it is not the name of a celebrity, – change it to something either unique and original or common.

(Please note a special case where a character bearing a name like a character from popular fiction is a driving element of the story, in the comment by @Lostinfrance, below.)


Also, if you publish your book through a publisher, they might require that you change the name anyway, even if it is original or common, simply because they have a better idea of what kind of name attracts your audience. (They will probably go for a variant of Katherine, if it is a woman.) So you can leave worrying about the name until you are ready to publish. It is an easy search-and-replace that you can quickly do at any time. So do it last, or you may find that you have to do it again and again.

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    "Another aspect not mentioned by the other answers is that you might not want readers be reminded of that tv show." Good point. Whatever the legalities, that's bad storytelling. – Lostinfrance Aug 5 '16 at 11:23
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    Although if your story is set in the modern real world, you could have it recognized in-universe that your character has the same name as that TV character, and he's always having to explain that, yes, he really is called that. I once read a magazine article where the reporter interviewed several real people called Harry Potter. They all had opportunities to develop the virtue of patience. – Lostinfrance Aug 5 '16 at 11:38
  • @Lostinfrance That is a perfect example of when breaking a rule is a good idea. – user5645 Aug 5 '16 at 13:30
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You may want to refer to the answers here: Are Names of Characters Copyrighted by Authors?

In a nutshell, you can safely write about an alien bounty hunter called Harry Potter who has no magical powers and travels the galaxy in a spaceship called the Enterprise.

This is the short and generic answer since copyright law is very complicated. Here is another enlightening article you might want to read: Copyright in Characters: What Can I Use?

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Its absolutely fine. I bet there is hundreds of main protagonists called Jack in the world of fiction.

Just be careful if you're going around naming your characters something along to lines of Aragorn or Jon Snow. If you name your characters a normal name (from any culture), its fine. If you name a character something that is made up, and already taken (like Aragorn), then you might run into some issues.

I hope this helped.

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