Names, Copyright and Thoughts

Someone asked the other day if they would recognise any of the characters in my books. I was a bit puzzled by this. The idea of creating a character is to do just that, to create a new and unique person and write a story about them. Sometimes I know very clearly who my character is based on but that is very rare. The mother of Dr Parker-Betts, in The University Cat: a Tale for Grown Ups and Graduates is a tribute to my partner’s mother whose idiosyncratic habits and speech make her someone I love dearly, but find incomprehensible.  The wisdom of my late partner shines through in most of the central male characters, and it is certainly the sound of his guitar in all the music. I learnt so much from him and I am grateful. I can hear my father’s voice in a lot of the female characters and his dark brown eyes look out from many descriptions. Writers use those around them to create their characters. To avoid doing this is impossible. We invent zombies. Every character on the page contain bits of the living and the dead.

What about names, I am often asked. Well here we have an unusual situation. Names and pseudonyms cannot be copyrighted, so I can use what I like. I suppose I picked up a habit from reading Dickens of fitting the name to the character that I am creating. I quite shamelessly trawl names from two major sources; the local graveyard and online avatars. Avatar names are a rich source of ideas. They have no copyright and the person assuming the pseudonym is inventing an false identity anyway. If it is a good name, I can use it, and I do.  Surnames are often specific to a region and that takes some online research to find a list of good ones with the right resonance. Neutral surnames of assorted minor characters often come from people around me. My way of saying thank you, you have enriched my life. My latest big character, Mak, short for Makenzie, is buried in the local graveyard. It struck me as a perfect name for a rock musician. The new book is so full of music, that I am writing a discography at the end to ensure I have acknowledged the work of each artist, which I am delighted to do. The titles of the songs are not protected by copyright, but I want the reader to remember when they heard the song and what it meant for them. Songs are probably the biggest trigger of memories, for me certainly.

So what is not covered by copyright? Names, titles, short phrases, and colours are not considered unique so have no protection under copyright law, unless protected by a trademark as most business names are. Try using McDonalds and watch the shit fly. The telephone directory is not covered by copyright and it occasionally makes a great resource for names and place to put coffee cups.

The one important thing you can’t copyright is ideas. So what goes swirling around in my head that I think belongs solely to me can be used by anyone, until I turn it into a book and publish it. Written on the ring I wear on my wedding finger is a quote from the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 to 180):

‘Our life is what our thoughts make it’.

When I write I am sharing my life.