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A character in my fantasy novel is called Beowulf. I named him such at a time I was unaware that this character existed in mythology, and was at least a little established. I didn't think much of it at first, but multiple people commented on it (seeing his name only). So naturally, I fear that this might be a problem.

BUT

These people only saw his name. They have not read anything from the story which includes him. So, what I'm wondering is, if my Beowulf's personality is developed and solidified within the reader's mind, will all problems disappear? I expect some connotations to be had, which is okay, but will it bother people? What are the ramifications of a character sharing the same name as another, famous and established character?

  • I doubt that most readers will be familiar with the original Beowulf to the point of expecting anything more than him being a brave warrior of sort. And I am not even sure that they would expect him to be brave. – NofP Jun 26 at 23:04
  • That's what I thought, but two people commented on it. If more people comment or answer on this post with the same reasoning as yours though, I'll stop worrying about it. @NofP – A. Kvåle Jun 26 at 23:14
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    Have you seen the movie Office Space? In it, an office worker is named Michael Bolton, which is also the name of a singer, and he's very annoyed that people keep asking. Think about why the character's parents named him that (or why he chose it as a name). – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Jun 27 at 14:15
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I, personally, believe that while people may comment 'Hey! He's named after that Beowulf myth!' I doubt they would automatically assume that your character is or has to be the SAME as the original Beowulf.

To go a bit further, is your Beowulf a purposeful retelling of the original? Is he the original Beowulf, but you've decided to dump him into a different story and setting? Going from that you said you hadn't heard of the original myth, I assume not. So, in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it. It would be like naming a character Percival. It's a nice name and some people might recognise it as a character from the myths of King Arthur, but does that mean he IS Percival? Probably not. But he might even be similar in some ways. Maybe he has to go on a quest to find a magical item that could heal his King otherwise the kingdom will fall to ruin? Anyone somewhat familiar with the story of Percival, the Grail, and the Fisher King will see some similarities, but it's different enough to be enjoyable if written well. I think it could be the same for you.

While I admit that Beowulf is perhaps more recognisable as a fantastic mythical hero than Percival, it shouldn't stop you from using his name. If you do use it, though, I would actually recommend taking some traits of the original Beowulf and using them. I don't mean you should turn him into the same character, but maybe everyone in your story knows your Beowulf as a really brave guy, not afraid of fighting against things most people would run away from screaming. Maybe if your story's set in this world and you have another character who's familiar with the Beowulf myth they could joke that his name really fits!

On the other hand, even writing your Beowulf to be the complete opposite of the brave, mythical Beowulf could be interesting. People would expect some traits to be similar (probably bravery being the most likely), but if it turns out that your Beowulf is actually a coward or has some not very heroic qualities, he could still be very interesting in an ironic way.

So, TL;DR, people may expect some specific qualities from a character who happens to have the same name as a well know mythical character, but you can use this to your advantage, either by playing it straight or through use of irony.

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Well, there's lots of characters that share names with mythical beings. Artemis Fowl (after Artemis, the huntress), Apollo Justice (after Apollo, the messenger god), Arthur Reed (like Arthur Pendragon, legendary king of England), et cetera, et cetera. Some of them have a meaningful connection (like Thanos to Thanatos - both are god-like beings heavily associated with deaths they deem necessary), some of them are relatively meaningless (like Arthur Reed; Arthur, the legendary king, is now a regular name).

Personally, if I heard a man named Beowulf, I'd think one of two things, depending on setting:

1: In a grounded contemporary/urban setting, I'd take the guy's parents as being a tad pretentious, maybe expecting great things of an honestly ordinary guy.

2: In a more vibrant, extraordinary setting, a man with a destiny as both a warrior and leader of sorts, likely to be a rabble rousing drinker sort who has a tendency to kill monsters.

That's my two cents on the matter.

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Searches will be hijacked

The ramification is that people searching online for you and your story by the character's name will be rerouted to the substantially more famous character.

Beowulf is also the title of the historic poem and numerous film versions, compounding the problem.

You're not just making it harder to find you online, you're making it almost impossible to find your Beowulf without also adding your name or the name of your story to the search.

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If I name a character Helen (maybe even Achilles) in a novel set in the time and society that's way different from the Greek mythological world, would it bother you as a reader? I don't think so. Why? Because subconsciously you would already know that my character is just named after a famous established character from mythology.

That being said, if you're rewriting a story that ends up resembling the original story of the named character, then that's something yo might want to reconsider. Other than that, I don't see a problem. Hope this helps.

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Don't do it.

Compare:

Some "established character" names have survived in languages and cultures as normal human names. Some are normal human names that just happen to be shared by prominent characters. "Svetlana" is a popular "Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Ukrainian and Belarusian name" that enjoyed explosive popularity after it was invented about two centuries ago, despite not being church-approved. It is not inconceivable that Khaleesi, an invented title from George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series which became a popular name for girls in 2018, or indeed Beowulf, would be just as ubiquitous in the future.

However, you're writing your book in the present day. Beowulf appears to have never had that Real Name status. The English Wikipedia does not list a single real person by that name.

People named Beowulf probably exist; a casual internet search finds messages by parents who consider naming their children after the character. The problem in your case is exacerbated by your novel being (I assume) a sword-and-sorcery fantasy which is not set on Earth. Out of three fictional characters listed on Wikipedia, one is a version of Beowulf the mythical hero himself, and two others are from sci-fi and of Earth heritage.

If you name your character "Beowulf", most readers will assume you're borrowing and reinterpreting the established character (who is public domain, so this is legal). But if yours is in fact an original character, I strongly advise you to pick another name.

To answer the general question:

What are the ramifications of a character sharing the same name as another, famous and established character?

Partial matches with existing human names are fine.

With particularly unusual names and wholly fictional worlds, make sure they don't stand out and break immersion. Different Earth readers and reader communities have different standards. It won't bother me if two sword and sorcery characters in the same story are named Reginald and Keiko. For others, these names will only pass muster if there's a Fantasy not-quite-England and Fantasy not-quite-Japan. "Jesus" in fantasy is certainly immersion-breaking for English speakers; I wonder if the same holds true in cultures where it's a popular given name.

Full matches are best avoided; as @wetcircuit points out, this will ruin search engine discoverability. It is also likely to break immersion for readers familiar with the established character.

Additionally, while names cannot be copyrighted, they can be trademarked. A trademark for your character's name belonging to a third party may substantially restrict your opportunities to exploit your work commercially. Ernest Cline's book Ready Player One is largely based on nominative use of real-world intellectual properties, but Warner Bros. Pictures, the makers of the movie, had to license the properties they did not own.

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