Astute fans who followed Brandon's progress on Twitter noticed that he was using the names of fans as the names of minor characters. How does Brandon know these people? And won't the real world names interrupt the flow of the story?
In late 2008, the service community at TarValon.net held a fundraiser on behalf of Heifer International. Working with Brandon Sanderson and the Jordan estate, the prize for a minimum donation of $20 was to be entered into a drawing for the naming rights to a Wheel of Time character who would have a role in the Last Battle. The winner was Anthony Aziz, who will appear as a Two Rivers man in TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT.
However, Brandon kept the list of donors and whenever he needed inspiration for a new name, he refered to the list and announced it on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. All the names have been "WoTized" to fit the setting, so there's no worries about "Asha'man Bob Smith" or "Tiffany Sedai" ruining the feel of the story.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened in this series. "Charlz Guybon", the captain of Elayne's guard in KNIFE OF DREAMS, was named for the winner of a similiar charitable contest in the UK. Jordan wrote in his blog about it: "I will say that a character in KoD, Charlz Guybon, is named after a man whose wife won an auction for naming rights after I agreed to be part of a fund raiser for an English charity that works with victims of torture. She sent me his description, which I used." Which sort of explains why he's the awesomest thing that ever awesomed in that book. Jordan wanted to make sure the guy got his money's worth.
In addition to the fans who entered the drawing, several Big Name Fans were included in THE GATHERING STORM. Quillin Tasil, the very informative innkeeper that Cadsuane knows, is a stand in for Bob Klutz. Bob is the owner of Encyclopedia WoT, one of the principal Wheel of Time reference sites. Eleyan al'Landerin, the subject of a statue mentioned as existing near the Watergate in Tar Valon, is the online name of Melissa Craib-Dombrowski, who is the Amyrlin Seat of TarValon.net.
Brandon Sanderson has mentioned his desire to do another fundraiser and drawing of this type for the final Wheel of Time book with TarValon.net, but there has been no official word on when it might be or who the beneficiary will be.