You are here:

Writing Books/Using real names in memoirs and personal essays


Dear Mr. McCutcheon,

As the author of a memoir, I'm hoping you'll be able to speak to my question. I'm polishing a narrative personal essay for submission to literary magazines, and one portion of the essay contains an anecdote about an old friend of mine. It's fairly neutral in terms of its portrayal of her, and gives minimal identifying detail. Thus I have used her real nickname in the piece (a shortened version of her real name, along the lines of "Beth" for Elizabeth).  However, I have been unable to get in touch with her to obtain her permission to use her real nickname.

So, do I need to change her name since I can't obtain explicit permission to use it from her? (Even though I'm only using her first name?) Or can I safely use her real nickname since it's fairly common, which will prevent me from having to add a caveat about having changed her name in my cover letters to literary magazine editors?

Thanks for your help!

Kind regards,

Dear Lee,

Thank you for the question and sorry I did not get reply earlier, but I have been travelling.

There is no need to change anyone's name in a memoir unless you are accusing them of a crime. The sensitivity about identifying people varies from country to country and English, European and Australian writers have no hesitation in publishing a person's full name. American authors (for some unknown reason) are much more sensitive although they have no cause to be.

In my own memoir I only changed one person's name and that was for the sake of my privacy, not theirs.

All the best with your essay.



Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Sandy McCutcheon


Author of 22 plays, 12 bestselling thrillers, a memoir and children's fiction.I can work with people on the process of writing, what to expect and ask for from an editor. How to work with the publisher`s marketing and publicity people. And how to survive book launches and publicity tours!


Published author of 22 plays, 12 bestselling thrillers, a young adult and three non-fiction titles. Visit his Moroccan blog at for a look at his blogging work.

St Andrews, Helsinki University and other institutions. Adult Educator of the Year Award, Australia

©2016 All rights reserved.