Mad name generator feature request

(I suspect this will come way down Keith’s list of priorities, but …)

I have just discovered the name generator. Whee! Excellent tool.

However, it lacks a useful feature: namely, the ability to check whether a generated name is fictional.

As someone who writes for a living, I’ve occasionally had nasty experiences in the past when I discovered I’d accidentally given a fictional character someone’s real name. It would be rather handy to have an optional “safety check” utility that would, for a selected (generated) name:

  • check Wikipedia for an entry corresponding to that name

  • search Facebook for that name

  • (Optionally) Google for that name

… and warn me if that person really seems to exist!

Alternatively, a tool that, for a list of names tagged as such in a Scrivener project, would do the aforementioned search and warn me if a name I’m using in a work of fiction appears to belong to a real person before it gets compiled and sent to my editor. Ahem. Just sayin’.

(Request motivated not so much by laziness as by the fact that a novel length work of fiction can contain dozens of characters, and manually checking them is both tedious and something I tend to forget about every time …)

I think you’re trying to prove a negative.

The 3 checks you mentioned are hardly definitive. A better approach would be to query all the government birth records world-wide and the associated court records for those that change their names; that would be a good start at checking all 7+ billion names of people on this little planet. Of course, this doesn’t address aliases, trademarks or common variations like leaving out the middle name. But even if you did all that, between the time you check and the time you publish some names could become non-fictional or fictional as people are born or die.

Why not use a disclaimer. Here’s one scanned from a novel I’m reading now.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales
or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Full proof isn’t necessary; due dilligence is. A combo of google and facebook will actually filter out about a billion people: anyone with internet access. (Those are the ones most likely to read your novel and take offence.)

Disclaimers are all very well but they’re only useful if you end up in court, trying to prove that you’re not bad-naming someone. Which can be costly.

So you apparently are using a disclaimer. Then I don’t see why you want a non-fictional name detector.

Disclaimers on their own aren’t sufficient to shield you from the threat of a lawsuit, in all jurisdictions. Far better not to use the name of someone prominent (unless it’s a requested Tuckerization) in the first place.

Actually in most countries, in order to sue you, they must prove intent of defamation or libel. With the disclaimer you have a solid defence, and can leave it up to them to prove that you knew someone of that name existed and deliberately chose that name so that readers would associate your fictional character with them. If the country in question doesn’t have sufficient protection for authors accidentally choosing a real persons name, do yourself a favour and don’t go there.

I quite like this idea, and it would be easy enough to add these search options to the contextual menu. (You can already select a name in the table and use the contextual menu to look up in Google, but I can add the other options and make it select the whole name when you ctrl-click, perhaps.)

People can always sue you, its just a question of whether they have a chance of winning. (And the American legal system generally doesn’t award attorneys fees to the winner, I can’t speak for other countries. )

I’m not clear on how risk averse Charlie is, but if he’s really afraid of a single facebook hit for any character name he’s used (and I’m not saying he is, just that I’m not clear how he would use this function in practice) that would be pretty risk adverse indeed. Would it show the number of hits or just a live link to the Facebook search results?

:frowning: Is this really that much of a risk? If so, I’m sorry that my surname’s not Blofeld. :wink: Or Scaramanga :wink: - both characters I believe named after real people Ian Fleming disliked at school. And I’m surprised that the architect Erno Goldfinger, a man not widely known for forgiveness, didn’t carry through his threat to sue. (OK, Fleming did end up giving him six free copies of the book.)

I do understand that there may be a bastard or two in the world who might try their luck and take a pop in the courts at some innocent author with some cash who has completely inadvertently cast them in a way they may claim to dislike, and there are some jurisdictions which might be cock-eyed enough to let them.

But even so. If we have to name our villains or even our heroes in such a way as to avoid anyone out of the seven billion currently alive and available to litigate, that’s a pretty tall order. And a recipe for some weird, not to say unrealistic, character names.

Charlie is a well-established and respected sf author (and famed “internet puppy” *), so he probably has more bastards out there wanting to try their luck than most.

  • Charlie, I have got to say that putting that on a T-shirt showed a lot of class and was a stroke of genius.


Isn’t there an argument in favor of using popular names? Call one of your characters Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky, and readers might assume you’re leaning on a Russian mathematician. Call him, instead, Charles Jones, and, should one Charles Jones complain, you can argue that you had no intention of maligning him, did not even know of his existence, and were referring to an old Army buddy, now dead these many years. (Unless, that is, you describe Charles as a left-handed guitar player with one blue and one green eye, red hair, and a Bulgarian accent, knowing full well that such a character not only existed but is the man who sold you a 1987 Chevy which lasted only 127 miles.)


Or you might get sued by Tom Lehrer, though on second thoughts he might be more likely to congratulate you!


“Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize;
And remember please always to call it research!”


I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevksi…

The excellent Tom Lehrer – responsible for the greatest verse in the history of song.

I’ve never quibbled
If it was ribald
I would devour
Where others merely nibbled
As the judge remarked the day that he
Acquitted my Aunt Hortense
To be smut
It must be ut-
Terly with our redeeming social importance

(From ‘Smut’)