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I was planning at some point to write a mystery fiction unrelated to history. I was inspired by writers who used literary figures as a name for their characters, yet the plot was completely unrelated to real life. I wanted to try something similar, but I felt using some literary figures' names was a bit repetitive since there were already a ton of them. I tried to ask my friends for advice. They jokingly replied to use national generals'/soldiers' names for main characters. I sort of liked the idea — yet, I reached out to my father and he replied using historical names might get me attacked, and that it is not worth it. Is it worth it? What should I do? Do I drop the idea? Or do I continue?

If it is only the internet and netizens' illogical complaints, I could probably handle it — but most importantly, is it morally and legally okay?

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    Try reading something like Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series in which almost every character is meant to be a near-magical reincarnation of a real historical personality… and so what? In Farmer's case, the only real interest in that immense work is the use of the historical names; all else is largely nonsense. In your case, why would real historical figures be any more suitable than names plucked from your local telephone directory? Sep 23, 2023 at 22:49
  • There are multiple successful anime/visual novel series where all of the characters are named after historical figures, despite most baring little to no physical/personality resemblance
    – qazwsx
    Sep 24, 2023 at 6:25

2 Answers 2

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You don't give an example, so I'll assume you want to call your detective Julius Caesar or your murderer Oliver Cromwell.

When does that make sense?

  1. If you want to play with the similarities and/or differences between your character and the historical figure.

  2. And if there is a good reason in the backstory of the character why someone might be given such a name. Some parents wouldn't call their child Karl Marx or Ludwig van Beethoven while others would. What might be the reasons for parents choosing such a name, and how does that bear on the person carrying such a legacy?

What's the danger?

  1. Your story could quickly drift off into comedy. The reactions of other characters to that character's name; the character having to constantly grapple with the name's legacy; all these better fit a humorous tale than a book with a serious tone.

  2. Whatever your readers think of the historical person might interfere with your intent. Do your readers admire or despise that person, think him wise or stupid? Will they interpret your narrative before the historical background and give your story a meaning that you don't want?

  3. The necessity to incorporate the historic figure's reality into your story somehow might unwittingly shape your narrative in ways you didn't plan and don't want. You are no longer completely free in your writing, and this can be inspiring or stifling.

Personally, I wouldn't use a real historical figure's name unless it was a part of my original story idea. I would never use it just because I needed a name.

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I wouldn't do that, unless I wanted my character to be embarrassed by it.

Mark picked up papers from his desk. "I have your application, here. 'B. Josiah Franklin'. What does the B stand for?"

Joe sighed. "I prefer Joe. B is for Benjamin."

"So, Benjamin Franklin. I get that."

"My father was Josiah, Benjamin Franklin's father was Josiah, my dad thought it was funny. Ha. So Benjie? BJ? Josie? There are no good options."

Mark nodded. "Alright, Joe it is. Moving on."

It's a weak joke, but something to play with, to persecute my character with, maybe something for him to overcome.

I'd probably only do that with a character that really does have something in common with the historical figure, in this case being inventive, brilliant and insightful.

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    For an example of a joke like this, the Detective Bosch by Michael Connelly tells people his first name is Harry. But his actual name is Hieronymus. It's become a recurring joke in the series when he has to say 'Yes, Hieronymus, Hieronymus Bosch, like the painter. My mother liked him'. Sep 23, 2023 at 13:49
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    Nice story snippet there!
    – bob
    Sep 23, 2023 at 22:03

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