What's in a Name?

Updated on April 17, 2011
N.P. asks from Santa Rosa, CA
15 answers

I feel as if I were pregnant at the same time as my sister, had chosen the perfect name for my baby, but before I could announce this choice my sister gave birth and named her child the same name I had lovingly picked, having had no idea I'd squirreled that name away for myself. I've read various responses here about woman debating whether or not they should change the name they picked for their child on the way and you've all swung both ways. Keep the name, who cares! Change the name, it'll be confusing! But here's a twist...

I've been writing a book, mostly convinced to do so by all the positive persuasion from all the great people at this site. I started it many months ago after my husband became unemployed and my carefully constructed little world started to fall apart. I came here and lamented my situation, just let it all hang out and I was buoyed and bolstered by much positive feedback.

So the book began to gestate. After a couple of chapters I tossed the first name I had picked for my protagonist unable to connect to it, and after scouring many baby name websites, I finally settled on one that I loved. One I loved to write, loved to say out loud and as an added bonus, the meaning of the name fit within the textual world I was building. It felt right and I bonded with my character.

Last night, after I sat in front of my keyboard to bleed for a few hours, I decided to look on Amazon.com for some books that were in, what I assume is, the genre my book will fall into. I found a couple and was absolutely dismayed and distraught to find that the protagonist in one of the books published recently back in 2010, has the same name I've been using for my own! The story is not the same in the slightest but I can't help but feel that if I release my book using the same name as the protagonist from this book, it'll be akin to me using the name Alice and expecting readers to try and not to think of rabbit holes and mad hatters, or the name Harry and not have people mentally adding Potter right after. People who read her book first would be hard pressed to disassociate the adventures of that character from mine, just because the name would evoke the memories.

Or should I just keep the name I chose and hope my book stands alone, on it's own, despite the main character's name? I'm pretty torn about what to do.

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So What Happened?

=) I'm not pregnant at all but likened my experience of the discovery that my character's name was used in a recent book, to being pregnant and finding out a close relative who had just given birth, chose the same name I had. "I *feel as if* I were pregnant at the same time as my sister." is the analogy I used.

Just thought I'd clear that up since it seemed to have been misconstrued by more than one person. (This does not give me hope for my writing if I am so easily misunderstood. ;) In other words, I feel that I am pregnant with this book, but someone else gave birth to theirs before me and took the name I had chosen. I'm a bit hesitant to reveal the name I chose at this time, though... I'm sorry!

But I thank you all for your input. I'm really leaning towards keeping it as the book who's character shares the same name as my own, isn't wildly popular. Nothing like Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter. It has a little over 400 customer reviews on amazon.com. However, it is fairly new so, who knows.

I also thought of using the extended version of her name as her name and then "shorten" it to what she has now, which would then be her nick name. But even in doing so, the end result would be the same, so keeping everything as is would save me from having to write in a device to deliver her full name to the reader, then come up with an explanation as to why she wants to use it shortened.

And now I've officially over-thought it. I'd better get the other two-thirds of the story out of my head and onto a page before worrying about this anymore. If I have to change her name, it'll only take a simple search and replace command to get it done in a heartbeat.

Featured Answers



answers from Augusta on

What about keeping the name and using an alternate spelling.
like my son's name is normally spelled J-a-s-o-n, we use Jayson as the spelling for his name.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Atlanta on

Just use the name you want. If it gets picked up, and your editor feels there's a problem, they'll let you know!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Topeka on

There are how many gazillion books out there available for us to choose from? Surely each protagonist in each book doesn't have their own unique name!!! If you are really torn about it how about coming up with middle name for your character and refer to her using both names?? For instance...my name is R. Ann...and most people call me by BOTH names!! I wouldnt hesitate for a second to go ahead and use whatever name you have picked for your book...don't give it a second thought.
And as for the perfect name that you had picked out for your someday-in-the-future-child...be proud that your sister and you are on the same wave length and that BOTH of you loved the same name!!! Now start thinking about ANOTHER perfect name...only this time tell your sister what it is and tell you claim squatters rights to it...so she doesn't "steal " it again...lol.
Good luck to you with your writing!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

You always follow your heart and brain as a parent and also as a Author. It is what guides you.. NO REGRETS!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lexington on

I think you have to look at it this way; how many characters in literature are named Anne, Jane, Nicholas, Henry? Yet, we don't all think of just one book when thinking of each name.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

as an avid reader, i have to say that a character having the name "alice" or "harry" does not automatically fill my mind with preconceived notions of those characters. i might be in the minority - but i am more interested in the setting, the context, the dialogue...half the time i finish a book i couldn't even tell you what the name of the character was (sorry - i can tell this means a lot to you as a writer, i'm sure like i said, i am in the minority). i am more likely to remember the clever plot twists, the suprise ending, the touching romance.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Louisville on

I'd say keep the name and don't sweat it. If it were a classic character you were "competing" with, I'd say, you're more prone to have people looking at your story as a retelling or recasting of the character. As long as the story and character completely stand on their own feet, the most you could expect is people who might have read the other book to think it must be a common name for the genre.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Can you tell us what the name is? Its really hard to say without knowing that. However I do think it will be a stretch that people associate your name and the name in this book. You give readers too much credit! And I wouldn't have a problem reading a book with Harry or Alice either-maybe that is just a thing for you.

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answers from New York on

When you bond with a name it's hard to then rename it and have the same emotional feelings toward the new name. I agree keep the name , sounds like it's not a children's book, which those names really stick with a child and can't seprate it from it being a name anyone else can have, all is well. I am an avid reader and same names come up across all genre of writing and I don't think I ever said "hey that character is named Harry and can't get the vision of Harry Potter out of my head" If this name works for you especially in your creative process, don't over think it use it and let your work stand on it's own, not along with the other novel. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Wow, that would feel like someone beat you to the punch so to speak. I think you will know after you live with it for a bit. I doubt you want to reveal too much about an artistic project on a public website so only you know how big of a "deal" it is. It will depend on a number of things, how similar the stories are, how common the name, how well read the other book is.....Not knowing everything, I'd lean towards keeping it but again I think you will be the best judge in time.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

That seems unfair. It would upset me too. Have you thought about coming up with a unique name that is not common or associated with a famous character? Maybe a word that fits the character's personality or maybe a name of different origin?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I wouldnt place too much on it...(the similarities on names)....I thought LONG and HARD about my daughters name...After 9 1/2 months, I decided on Bethany....I love that name....here she is, 4 years old and dont you know some stupid, reality star "housewife" (who isnt either charming or good looking) is the star of her own dumb reality show!?! (Bethenny Ever After) The woman is self absorbed and has a "look at me, its all about me" attitude. That and the fact that she has those weird bulldog jowels...

The point is...you cant control it....unless, of course, you make up a name....then again...that isnt guarenteed either.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

Oh, there is soooo much in a name. You likened it to Alice and hearing Alice in Wonderland and Harry...albeit the most recent Potter. BUT there are always solutions. Alice could now be Alyce Ann...Harry could be Harrison....and no one would construe Wonderland or Potter. Take your name and see if you can tweak it. You've fallen in love with it. Using the exact same name that the other author used will probably irk you for a long time....

Hope this helps!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Don't worry about it until you go for publication, and then let your editor worry about it.

I mean, if you named your character Stephanie Plum, or Harry Potter, Elizabeth Swan, Frodo, Lessa, Sookie or something else TRADEMARKED... sure, it's time to change it. But 90% of all names (to make up a stat) and 100% of all plots (just fact) have been written before. I can't even count the number of times Alice has appeared as a character in hundreds of books. Even Alice no-last-name. If it's something *that* recognizable / infringing on rights... your manuscript won't be read it'll be tossed onto the slush pile. Hint: If there are more than 10 books in the series or if it's been made into a movie.

OTW the editor IF there's a problem will mention it. Carts & horses.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Iowa City on

Unless you have picked a truly unusual name or a rather distinctive name I don't think it will be a problem for your readers. Good luck with your decision!

1 mom found this helpful
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