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I began work A Long Time Ago(tm) on this particular book and only took it up again about eighteen months ago. Back in 2007, I checked around but didn't see anybody of note with the name of my protagonist, let's call them 'Froc Baegar' (because we can, and because there isn't one immediately back from the search engine), so I used the name I'd come up with. Nearing completion and beginning to look into publishing again, I had a sudden rush of blood to the head and Googled my 'Froc Baegar'. Blow me down, an IMDB listing, a live website showing photos of Froc and containing clips of their voice-over work, their Twitter feed, etc, etc, etc.

I'm kind of attached to the name and have begun a little tinkering with cover art and icons based on my character. My character's name is used as a plot device, being given their equivalent of a frock coat and, while it's not an essential part of the story, it's a nice link in to something that is, so changing it is not a simple search & replace.

Can anybody advise on how to best deal with this? Obviously, sending around a fictional hit squad is simplest, but produces no real world result.

  • If you sold the movie rights, could you cast Mr. Baegar as your character? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 24 '16 at 14:22
  • I just Googled "Froc Baegar" and got absolutely nothing of note. Obviously, sending a virtual hit squad over works very well. – Lew Oct 24 '16 at 15:16
  • I immediately considered the rights, but there's a bit of a difference in ethnicity. Not as much as, say, Scandinavian to Central Africa or Indochina, but enough to make it a bit silly, considering the back story. The Real Froc Baegars? Well no there isn't one - I chose name as a 'for example', knowing that there wasn't one IRL, but with the a clothing-related theme. – Quin Benson Oct 25 '16 at 7:26
  • Reminds me of a time when after I had written a character with a certain name, who like to sexually torture women, I met a person at a church I was visiting who gave that exact same name when he introduced himself. Of course I did not tell him this... – EvilSnack Apr 1 at 3:01
  • There's a Michael Bolton in Office Space, and they make jokes about his name matching a famous person's. Maybe you could do the same? – Apologize and reinstate Monica Apr 1 at 14:29
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Can you possibly give your character a middle initial or name that would help push an internet search in the right direction?

As has been mentioned there are probably a lot of well known names to stay away from but these days many, many people will have an internet footprint so avoiding them all is going to become more and more difficult.

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I know how attached I can get to my character names, especially since it usually takes me weeks to come up with them (no exaggeration), but as a reader I also know how little importance character names hold for me, and I would have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings equally if it wasn't Frodo and Sam but Fred and Bob getting the Ring to Mount Doom, so what I recommend is being professional about this and chosing another name.

Unless, that is, if it is a very common name, and googling it turns up a variety of people, not just this one actor. If you do an image search and all you see is Tom Cruise, then do not use the name Tom Cruise.

  • Well, there are a few people who share the name, but only one with a real internet footprint - and that's the thing that's going to clash on the search engines when I go live with a series website. Mind, I could quite happily put up a link and picture saying 'You want the voice-over artist? They're over HERE'. Which might generate a small amount of throughput from the few people hiring VO on any given day, I suppose, and a hit's a hit. The joys of self publish: you get to sort out all the flack a publisher would deal with. – Quin Benson Oct 25 '16 at 7:43
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    Maybe you can change the spelling a little bit. Think of author Caroline Janice Cherry, who writes under the "pseudonym" C.J. Cherryh, with an "h" at the end. That is enough to make her name very much unique, and it still works as a name that a real person might have. Can you create a non-existing but real seeming variant of your character's name? – user5645 Oct 25 '16 at 8:53
  • I'm beginning to think that's going to be a sensible move - if I can come up with an alternative that isn't too contrived-sounding. – Quin Benson Oct 30 '16 at 18:36
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One way to handle it is with a lampshade. "Froc Baegar? Like the actor? Meh, you don't look like him." "Yeah, I get that a lot."

You can't copyright a name. If your character happens to have the same name as a public figure, it's only a problem if a reasonable person could confuse the two. In other words, there have to be multiple points of correspondence between them.

One option is to contact the "real" Baegar, explain the situation, and ask for permission to use the name. It's not legally binding, but it gives you cover if your publisher has a problem with the name. Who knows, the guy may be flattered.

Another is to replace the name pre-emptively. I look forward to future books where all the characters have unique names such as Perq Jaxxon and Bzsp Flepture.

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I find it is very hard to come up with a unique name. I think this would partly depend on how well known this person is. You wouldn't want to use "Tom Cruise" or someone like that, as @what said. Someone who is lesser known (at least for now) might be okay. Don't forget that standard disclaimer about "work of fiction, not based on anyone, yadda yadda." That may be sufficient.

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There are names and there are brands. Lots of people have the same name and it is not reasonable to expect that no fictional character to have a name that no one else does.

Brands, on the other hand, enjoy a degree of uniqueness protection that ordinary names do not. Some actor's names are not only names, they are brands. But merely having a listing on IMDB does not make your name a brand name.

The protection of brand names is by no means absolute. It only covers specific protection against commercial confusion. And the fair use doctrine allows a fair amount of leeway for literary use. IANAL but is seems unlikely that the usage you propose is in any way conflicting with anyone's commercial rights.

On the other hand, people, and publishers, tend to give such issues a wide berth because they don't want the hassle of defending a nuisance suit.

  • It's that last point about the hassle I'm concerned about: people like their Rights. However, your arguments, NAL notwithstanding, give me hope - thank you for the feedback. – Quin Benson Oct 25 '16 at 8:13
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I wouldn't put too much stock in it, especially if they're a Voice-Over Actor who only appeared in a decade or so. I would take a look at his acting credits i.e. which shows he's been on and look at the fanbase of that show. Ultimately, Voice actors get a lot of bit parts and not a lot of recognition (One of the most profelific actors in American history is Frank Welker who, among other things, did the voice of the Original Megatron (and a few other Transformers), Abu (Aladdin), Scooby-Doo (as of 2002) and all incarnations of fellow Scooby-Doo Character Fred Jones save the younger version seen in Pup Named Scooby-Doo... of course, you probably don't realize he's in a movie because Welker has a special talent for animal sounds... if you hear a dog bark in a cartoon, chances are it's Welker, not a real dog, behind the the mic.

Most voice actors don't get recognition unless they were famous before they did VA work (Mark Hamil, who mostly gets mentioned because his first role was the Joker in the 90s Batman cartoon (when the casting department learned that their show's biggest star was Luke Skywalker, they naturally gave him the biggest role, The Joker, much to Hamil's dismay, fearing he would be stepping onto sacred territory). As such, his VA characters tend to be villains and sound nothing like Luke Skywalker) or they have had significant live action pressense after starting in VA work (Such as the case in Kevin Michael Richardson, who had been voice acting for years before he played the Kingpin in the Film version of Daredevil).

Chances are your guy is realatively unknown outside of the circles of fans who enjoy the shows this actor has been on... enough to explain away the google search. I would say unless the character's name appears in the title, I wouldn't be too worried. I do like the above mentioned situation of writing the actor and explaining the situation and asking politely. Voice Actors on a whole tend to be a bit more down to Earth by comparison to screen actors (they aren't recognizable and thus, don't usually have crazy fans screaming their character's lines at them.) and overall, they tend to be quite friendly to each other and some of the older Generations have decades in the community and cross polination among the limited actors normally means that they are all friends and friendly (Peter Cullen... The original Optimus Prime, said his biggest problem with Frank Welker was that Welker has made it his life's mission to get Cullen to blow as many takes as possible while doing various voices).

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