1. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Name Calling?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jwatson, Feb 6, 2010.

    Hi everyone.

    Just a quick question I have here. I'm in the middle of re-writing a novel, and I can't seem to decide whether to refer to one of the main characters who is with my protagonist throughout the book by his first or last name. The character and my protagonist do get along (slightly), though, they are quite rude to each other, have their differences, and are also strangers. The thing is, I refer to another character who my protagonist is on good terms with with his last name.

    What I'm asking is: when you refer to a character by their last name, does that necessarily mean that the protagonist is not on good terms with them? I just write more comfortably with using what I like better, when it comes to first and last names.

    Thanks for your time,


    J
     
  2. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    I would think if his friends and acquaintances aren't even on first name basis then why strangers? It might seem out of place. Stick with last names
     
  3. cboatsman
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    cboatsman Senior Member

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    I think this would have a lot to do with the time setting of your story amongst other things. In our modern age it is quite common for people to be on a first name basis. However, some cultures it would be considered disrespectful, and in different time periods it would also be considered disrespectful. If any of this applies to your novel then you would need to use your best discretion.

    To directly answer your question, however, I don't think so. Maybe he prefers to use the last name over the first name, and it has nothing to do with being on good terms or not.

    I would say stick with last names to be safe if this is what you've been doing and/or are comfortable with in your writing.

    Caleb
     
  4. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    Not at all. I know people in real life who are referred to almost exclusively by their surnames. Basically I figure it's just like nicknames, they can be used to hurt and they can be used affectionately.
     
  5. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    If "you" means the writer's choice of a name from the omniscient POV, then it doesn't matter which name you use as long as it remains consistent throughout the story.

    If "you" means your MC's choice of name for his friend, then the story itself would dictate which name makes best sense. How would your MC choose to address his friend?
     
  6. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    See, my protagonist is a man of the law, who just happens to be on a quest with a fugitive. And although they end up on great terms, I still have him refer to him by his last name. Meanwhile, other characters will call that character by his first name, so it varies, but my protagonist will stick to last name.

    Meanwhile, the other character with who my protagonist is not on great terms with, is referred to by his first name by the protagonist. I feel like I'm conflicting the name calling, if anyone catches my drift. I personally don't think it matters, but I just want to be sure. Would you call your friend by his last name, and then a person who is not so much a friend by their first name...?
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not necessarily... people are often called by their last name only, even by the closest of friends...

    in fact, one of my now and then lovers in my old life was always just 'malone' to me... he was chief of police in our smallish town and everyone called him either that, or 'chief'...

    you'll find that commonly done in noir detective fiction... 'marlow' and 'spenser' are classic examples... even their best friends and girlfriends never used their first names...
     
  8. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    It's perfectly normal for different people to refer to the people they know in different ways. As long as you're consistent with who's calling who what, it doesn't matter at all.
     
  9. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I think it greatly depends on the last name. My last name wouldn't do for someone calling me that, because most people can't even pronounce it. So my first name it is. Same goes for characters. A last name, as maia pointed of, of Malone, could easily be used to call someone rather than their first name. If it flows then go with it.

    First names and nicknames are also the same. My BIL goes by Dave to most of his friends, but I still call him David, regardless. My hubby hates being called Jay, even though his name is Jason, and refuses to let that be his nickname. I refuse to be called Jenny, but I'm good with Jenn or Jennifer. My son's first name is George, but we call him Alex (his middle name is Alexander.) George was a family name that we agreed to name him, but we really aren't crazy about it as a name, it's his grandfather's name. I knew one girl who was always called by her last name, Flanders, by her friends.

    So it really just depends on the people and what they are comfortable with, and what you as the writer want to use. Also, it seems cops in fiction tend to be referred to by their last names most frequently, mostly it seems to be a work related respect thing. Though I don't understand it. My hubby works with the cops all the time with his job, and he calls them all by their last name, rather than their first.
     
  10. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    Sometimes it just rolls better that way. I knew a guy whose last name was Dalby. I thought it was a fun name, more interesting than his generic first name (not that I'd tell him this) so I called him "Dalby." Some people prefer to be called by their last name, or still others it stems back to childhood for some reason. For me, as a writer, it depends on the name. My all time favorite character that I'm writing is referred to by an abbreviated version of his last name. (Like Fergie for Ferghuson.) If you're more comfortable referring to this character by his last name in your writing then you should.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Know your narrator as you would know each character. How would your narrator refer to the person?
     
  12. fantasy girl
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    fantasy girl Contributing Member

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    my friend shouts at us when we call her by her first name, so we all call her Lacy, her last name. Even the teachers and her family call her Lacy. I think it is personal preference that dictates what a character is called
     
  13. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Good point Cogito. Thanks for all your responses.
     
  14. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure I'm exactly understanding your quandary or your question. How you call someone in a novel really only "means" whatever you write it to mean. But, I will say if your character is referring to more than one other character by last name, that suggests a quirk that he himself posesses more than anything else (wouldn't it be unlikely to have two important characters--or friends--identified by last name, unless there was a storyline reason for that? Like maybe they're in an occupation where last names are customarily used, or something along those lines?). Anyway, you'd need to build that quirk into the story in some way. But last names, like any other name, nickname, or terms of endearment are just the manner in which we come to identify each other. You can handle it any way you like. And if you're writing from an omniscient point of view, your characters can be identified differently in description than in how they're called by other particular characters (and when and why). Just make it all plausible and eliminate any confusion it may give rise to within your fiction. That's really all that matters.
     

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