Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Protecting the innocent

I’ve always wondered about the phrase, “The names have been altered to protect the innocent.”
You may have noticed that I tend to abbreviate names unless I think the person in question doesn’t mind being named. As in yesterday’s post, when I responded to a comment by “Jen.” I figured using the name “Jen” was fair game. (So far, no complaints from “her” – let’s preserve the internet’s glorious anonymity, right?)
But the phrase I mentioned above is really just a euphemism for, “The names have been altered to avoid unnecessary lawsuits.”
Because, really, if the names are altered, it is precisely the innocent who get incriminated. No matter how inventive you get with names, there’s bound to be someone who actually has that name – or who might change his or her name legally in order to sue, you never know. “Yeah, hi. My name is Fecklehead Pecklingsbottom III and I resent having been made a diabetic in your novel. Here’s my bill.”
If you want to protect the “innocent,” use the correct names. After all, these people did something that made you want to write about them. In other words, they’re guilty of something.
If they were truly innocent, getting their names mentioned in a bit of writing shouldn’t tarnish their image. Or they might not have been as innocent as they thought.

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