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Using Famous Names and Proper Nouns in Fiction

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Q: In a work of fiction, what restrictions exist on using the names of professional sports teams, TV networks or real people (e.g., the Los Angeles Dodgers, FOX Network or Rupert Murdoch)?—Jeff Stanger

A: If your character is a Dodgers fan or loves watching FOX news or happens to walk past Rupert Murdoch on the street and notices that he’s taller than he looks on television, you generally won’t have Alan Dershowitz calling for your head. You can use these well-known proper names in your text as long as you don’t intentionally try to harm that person’s or product’s reputation.

Normally you won’t catch much grief for writing neutral or positive words about real people, places and things. It’s the negative press you provide that could be considered trade libel or commercial disparagement—both ugly phrases that could cost you plenty of cash in a court of law.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Friday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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