Using real-life names of villains in fictional stories

Do fiction writers ever use real-life names of their enemies (past or present) to play the bad guys in their stories? Has anyone on this board ever done this in their writings, especially for published works (in print or on the web?) How do you choose the names of your baddies otherwise if you are fearful of potential lawsuits? Have such authors ever been sued or at least been legally threatened for maligning the names of the people on their shitlists IRL? Does the disclaimer “the events in this story are purely fictional and any resemblances to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental” defend such writers from such litigation?

The way I look at it, it’s fiction and descriptions of vile acts that the villain performs aren’t necessarily intended to serve as an actual account of any such actions these people have actually done (though it could be if the bad guy’s actions in the story are based on what he did in real life) and therefore could not be construed as libel. I imagine most writers like to use realistic names that aren’t too boring or generic (i.e. John Smith, Joe Brown) and it would onl be natural to use the names of people you don’t like. If I were to write such a story with bad guys in it I’d want to give them the names of nasty classmates and disagreeable bosses, or at least alter the names slightly so that they are similar. Even so, chances are somebody in the real world would have such a name and might be offended by seeing himself/herself being portrayed as a villain. Anyone who can shed some light on this subject please do.

From the trivia for Galaxy Quest on IMDb:

Both Harlan Ellison and Stephen King have mentioned making naming and making villainous characters of former childhood tormentors who come to sticky ends.

IIRC, the Joey Caruso character from Everybody Hates Chris is based on a real bully who used to pick on Chris Rock.


Alfred Bester, the villanous telepath on Babylon 5, was named after Alfred Bester, an author who wrote science fiction about telepathy.

It was homage, however, so he would have probably loved it.

Yep. There’s the case of hockey player Tony Twist, who sued comics writer Todd McFarlane, after McFarlane named a villian in one of his comic books after him. The twist (pun intended) here was that Twist wasn’t sueing for libel or anything like that. He sued because he claimed that McFarlane was profiting from his likeness. If McFarlane had named the villian after some real but non-famous person, persumably it wouldn’t have been an issue.

And, speaking of that, I just indexed Robert Silverberg’s Revolt on Alpha C which I bought when I was in sixth grade. The name of the hero’s best friend was Harl Ellison.

It only took me 44 years to get that joke. :stuck_out_tongue:

Although not usually as villains, per se, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were popular targets for namesakes, especially by film directors. The two-headed monster in Willow was referred to by the filmmakers (outside of the film) as the “Siskbert,” and in the infamous 1998 Godzilla, due to the fact the duo had given some of director Roland Emmerich’s films some bad reviews in the past, the bumbling mayor of New York is named Mayor Ebert and his assistant is Gene. (Ebert seems to have a sense of humor about jabs such as these- in his review of Godzilla, he appeared to be delighted to have a Godzilla character named after him and admitted that he “fully expected [Mayor Ebert] to be squished like a bug by Godzilla.”

Oh, yes- I just remembered the case of Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, who is mentioned in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy as the author of the worst poetry in the universe (which was thankfully destroyed, along with him, when the Earth was destroyed by Vogons.) He complained about the use of his real address. Both the name and address were changed in later editions.

The early rocket experimenter, occultist & science fiction fan, John Whitesides Parsons, appears in several science fiction stories by different authors, as villain or hero, as the authors’ views & mood took it.

Parsons was a rather mysterious & strange man. His death was even stranger.

Some people cast as villainous worms, from memory. in a relatiively recent Jonah Hex story published by DC’s Vertigo imprint also started a law suit.

Frederick Forsyth often uses real people as characters in his novels- Charles DeGaulle, Saddam Hussein, and Margaret Thatcher to name a few…

Isn’t Lea Teabing (from The DaVinci Code) an anagram of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail or something like that?

IIRC David Weber rewards fans who point out errors by using their names for minor characters; I don’t know if any of them get to be villains.

Just on a hunch, I looked up “Palpatine,” but no dice: it’s an homage to Taxi Driver. The politician Travis Bickle stalks in “Taxi Driver” is Senator Palatine.

Leigh Teabing, actually. The “Leigh” comes from Richard Leigh, and “Teabing” is an anagram of the surname of Michael Baigent.

I’ve heard that Gene Rodenberry had an old friend called Singh that he lost contact with years ago. So he repeatedly introduced characters called Singh into Star Trek, in the hope that his old friend would make contact. He never did. Examples include: Data’s creator, Noonian Sung, and Khaaaaaaaan Noonian Singh. So, a villain named after an old friend, not an enemy.

Also, when Ford introduced Zaphod and Arthur, and Arthur says they’ve met, Ford replies, “What?! This is the President of the Galaxy, not bloody Martin Smith from Croydon!” Martin Smith from Croydon was one of Adams’ best mates at Cambridge.

More recently, J.K. Rowling may have been taking a shot at Dubya on the first page of Harry Potter 6. The British Prime Minister is waiting for a call from a foreign president; “waiting for the wretched man to phone”, to be precise. Of course, that requires a time jump, since the Potterverse is still stuck in the mid-90s, in which case it would have been John Major waiting to hear from Clinton, or maybe Francois Mitterand…But yeah, most likely Dubya.