Anonymity v. Irony

One of the difficulties in writing about what I do is that all the details are strictly confidential, including people’s names.

At first this presents an opportunity to be creative. We all loved dreaming up names for our fictional heroes and villains in school, back when writing creatively was not just encouraged but compulsory. For those of us that don’t invent characters anymore, there are pets, cars, and even household appliances to name: don’t ever try to reformat a hard drive without naming it respectfully.

Though we practice it all the time, applying fanciful names to people is more difficult than naming your toaster. I’m in the market for a new toaster, and I think I’ll name it Manuel. I want to imagine that when the toast pops, it will sound like Andrew Sachs. Then I’ll use a clean spoon to apply something to the toast. There is irony here. That’s why it’s easy to name- I can associate the appliance with other meaning.

The problem with applying fanciful names to people is that you need to avoid that irony. Any associated meaning could damage the anonymity of your client. You certainly don’t want to use a name which is culturally insensitive just because it reminds you of the person. Names that belittle or condescend are out too. Even worse is a name that is so close to actual that it gives away the identity of the person you’re trying to protect. All of these examples contain irony that could blow out of your personal space and into the all-too-public.

So here’s my question: what do you do to avoid irony when applying pseudonyms? Please post suggestions and strategies in comments.