When To Use Real Names in Memoirs

A talented student-memoirist asked recently whether he should identify characters in his memoir by their real names.  There’s no simple answer, but at the drafting stage of your memoir writing go ahead and use real names. Having the actual person in mind will greatly assist with your characterization and storytelling.  However, this question of true identity is one that any memoirist will need to revisit with a publisher once he or she secures a publishing contract.  The most important thing, of course, is not to libel anyone in your manuscript. Also, if applicable, you’d definitely want to change someone’s name if there are moral concerns (e.g., if someone was raped, etc.). A final concern is that in some states, such as California, individuals have a legal right to publicity. That means you may need their permission if you identify them in a book (unless they’re a public figure).