When I decided to get serious about my writing, I had a critical choice to make: Use my real name or a pen name. It may not seem like a big deal, but I thought it was important to know what direction I was headed from the start.

I decided on a pen name because it allows me to retain a bit of anonymity while still building and promoting my personal brand and business – and besides, I just think it sounds better.

But when it came to writing about other real people, I had to decide again – aliases, or actual names?

The nature of my humor writing is satirical and sarcastic – which means that sooner or later, it’s bound to show many of the players in a less than positive light. Knowing that people may not be eager to have slightly exaggerated facts printed about them under their real names, I decided I should use aliases for everyone in my upcoming book.

Once I made that decision, I thought it would be a simple thing to pick entertaining names for all the characters, and voila – everyone would be happy.

Then I remembered that no matter what you do, you can never make everyone happy.

On the contrary – when making major decisions, you’re almost guaranteed to make at least one person unhappy – even if you choose to do nothing at all.

So, realizing that by choosing aliases for my eleven siblings I was running the risk of insulting one or all of them, I took a different approach.

I contacted all of them and gave them the option of choosing their own alias. That way, they could each pick a name they liked (for whatever reason), and I would leave their real names out. I even gave them the option of using their real name if they really wanted to.

Every one of them chose an alias.

I was pleased to see them all getting into the spirit of the thing – even though their chosen names ranged from perfectly normal to downright ridiculous, I figured the bizarre results would be funny in their own right.

After collecting all the names, life forced me to take a break from writing for a while, and everybody pretty much forgot about the exercise.

Then, I started the Just Ship It challenge on Fizzle.co, and decided that was the perfect opportunity to put my motley crew of silly monikers to use in finishing my first book.

As I’ve progressed through the month leading up to the book launch, I offered a sneak peak chapter to my subscribers (which you can get for free – right here.) It was the first public release of the aliases. I thought things were going along great. I was focused on finishing the book, building some buzz and a fat email list, and figuring out the nuances of self-publishing.

Then I got my first complaint.

From my sister.

She told me that some of the names I was using were distracting her from the story, because they reminded her of characters in other stories she’d read or movies she’d seen.

That’s not surprising, since almost every one of my siblings chose their alias based on a ridiculous or admirable fictional character they were fond of.

“But, they chose their own names,” I protested. “I told them they could choose whatever names they wanted, and I’d use them. If you don’t like the way a name sounds, well, you’ll just have to take that up with Inigo.”

Yes, one of my brothers chose to be called Inigo – after Inigo Montoya, the obsessive Spanish swordsman in the movie The Princess Bride. To be honest, I was a little jealous that he thought of that one before I did – if he hadn’t taken the name, you might be reading this on InigoMacDougall.com.

But I digress.

Yesterday, another brother emailed me and asked if I had considered explaining to my readers why everybody in my family had such odd names. He has a good point, because if you look at all of their names as a whole, it makes Frank Zappa’s kids’ names look positively boring. (Hey, wait a minute… DweezilMacDougall.com… that’s not bad…)

The point of this discussion is that in allowing the stars of my stories to choose their own alias, I willingly surrendered part of my own creative license. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad in this case, because it allows them to participate in telling their own stories, and encourages them to have fun while they do it.

Oh, and just so you know – here’s the list of names they chose, as well as some of the inspirations:

Pike –                 Named after Pike Bishop, tough cowboy played by William Holden in                                           The Wild Bunch

Yasmina –          Because she likes it and is partial to names starting with Y

Rolf –                  Named after Rolf Retief, younger brother of hero diplomat Jaime                                                  Retief in Keith Laumer’s farcical Sci-fi series

Sara –                 Named after Sara Hogan, masquerading nun played by Shirley                                                      MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara

Emeline –           Named after Emeline Finch, harried wife of Sid Caesar in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad,                              Mad World

Inigo –                Named after Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride

Jethro –              Oblique dual reference to rock band Jethro Tull and Jethro Bodine,                                                lovable doofus played by Max Baer Jr. in The Beverly Hillbillies

Galla –                Scottish Gaelic for Vixen, which would make a great ridiculous                                                        character name in a Harlequin Romance novel

Jinty –                 Scottish girl’s name meaning God is Gracious. Certainly true – this                                                  crowd needed a lot of grace growing up

Rico –                 Named after Uncle Rico, played by Jon Gries in Napoleon Dynamite

Lauralynn –        Short for Lauralynn Hardy… ‘nuff said

and me, MP –     Random initials. I’m the imaginative one.

What’s your opinion?

If you had a choice between choosing interesting aliases for 11 people (risking their ire if you got it wrong), or giving up some control of your own writing and letting them pick their own names, what would you do?

Add your two cents in the comments!