My sister, Barbara Cagle, could have been the mayor in my book, Where Love Once Lived, but she declined. In an early draft, I used her real name for the fictional mayor of the city. I thought she might get a kick out of it. But no, she wasn't too thrilled at all. It's a good thing she was one of my pre-publication readers because there's no telling what might have happened if the book had gone to print with her name in it and me thinking that was a good thing.
Here's why she didn't particularly care for the honor. I tend to give my secondary characters traits that are a bit exaggerated while the main characters are the beautiful people. I got in trouble with some manuscript contest judges for this a few times, especially when I talked about how Liz, my librarian was so big and fat the whole bookmobile shook when she walked through. I took that out, but Liz is still a plus size.
So, why did my sister object to being the mayor of Austin, Texas?
Simple. My mayor is short, fat and rude. My sister is slim, shapely and lovable. And, as Barbara reminded me, she worked hard to maintain her figure.
Is it a good idea to use real people's names? Probably not, but I've done it.
The male protagonist in Where Love Once Lived is named after Brian Donelson, a good friend of mine. But I didn't set out to do so. Here's what happened. When I started the book I knew I would need a perfect name for this character and didn't yet know what that name should be. So, as I wrote I referred to him as BD which for me stood for bookmobile driver. In fact I wrote three or four chapters calling him BD. About that time, the real Brian Donelson and I found each other on the Internet after losing contact with one another for about thirty years.
What about you? Do you ever use the names of real people for fictional characters? Have you ever had a problem because of it? How do you select the perfect name?