1. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    What type of implications do each of these names have?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by newjerseyrunner, Aug 15, 2016.

    I have a character, who I'm not sure how to name when I mention him in passing. I have three possibilities:

    "Hello," greeted Francois.
    "Hello," greeted the Professor.

    I want to avoid using the word "doctor" because there is another character who is a medical doctor and I want to avoid confusion.

    I'd like to know what images appear in your minds for each version given the knowledge that Francois LaBerge is an older man and theoretical physicist. They are not in an academic setting but are all intellectuals.
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Is he a minor character or major? I assume you wouldn't be asking unless he features fairly significantly, so I'm posting assuming he's going to appear more than once.

    Francois implies nothing and conjures up no image to me. It's not a name I associate with a certain age group or type of person. He'd be a vague blob in my imagination until I had some more clues about him. And that's fine with me. :)

    'The professor' does imply a middle aged white man to me, sadly. Actually, anywhere from 30-60, although my immediate image would probably be at the upper end of that scale.

    Personally, it's a pet peeve when authors use an epithet for a character (the professor, the waitress, the doctor) once we know their name. It just screams "author was worried s/he was using their name too much" and is distracting. The exceptions are:
    1) when the character is introduced, and we don't know he's called Francois;
    2) if the POV character wouldn't call him Francois - maybe a student, who's in awe of him and thinks of him as 'the professor'. Then it's consist for his narrative to refer to him as 'the professor'. No capital P, by the way, as professor isn't a proper noun in that context.
     
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  3. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    Whose point of view is this? If the POV character thinks of him as "the professor," then that's what you should use. "Professor" should be lowercase, by the way, unless it's used as a name.

    "Hello," greeted the professor.
    "Hello," greeted Professor.

    That said, I think either one will work. Nothing in particular goes into my mind with either Francois or professor.
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Prof is a higher title than Dr. - they're not the same thing. Is your character actually a Professor?

    Or was the capitalisation in "Professor" a mistake? eg. you mean professor as in what us Brits would call lecturers or tutors, and you don't mean it as a title?

    Depends on how important the character is, and depends on the tone. "The Professor" is more distant, potentially more formal or ominous, and might indicate the character as someone minor or secondary.
     
  5. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    Okay, I guess I should provide some context.

    The MC is in a close-knit group of explorers and Francois LaBerge is a researcher who's basically chartered their vessel. He's much older than the rest of them, near the end of his life where everyone else is in the middle of it. So he does have some distance, the explorers all know of him because he's extremely distinguished. He's mainly a researcher, teaching only lecture tours both on general physics and ground breaking papers. Sort of like Dr. Hawking or Feynman. He's also a popular promoter of science like Neil DeGrass Tyson or Carl Sagan. This is why I'm fretting about what to call him. Say you were writing a store about a group of characters who in terms of history were nobodies, but where one character is Albert Einstein. Calling him Albert seems somehow incorrect.

    I think all of the characters will probably address him as "professor." That seems the proper way to address someone like that having never met them before. After spending time together, the nickname I think would just stick. My dilemma is more as the author. Perhaps using the character's last name would distinguish him more without resorting to something like The Professor in Gilligan's Island.

    Would that work better for a character like that?
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll be the first to say the name Francois does conjure up an image for me, but as is clear from the above posts, this won't be the case for everyone, so my opinion is irrelevant. For the sake of it I'll say I imagine (a Frenchman, of course), and someone very well-to-do and in their mid-30s.

    Professor, on the other hand, will conjure up the image @Tenderiser outlines, for the majority of people I'd say.
     
  7. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    Using his last name instead of his first does imply more distance and/or respect in my mind. You can still have them call him Professor in dialogue and it'd read fine.
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Call him Professor LaBerge.

    That way you've got his name so if somebody wants to be aggressive, he can say "Get this straight, LaBerge.", if somebody wants to be respectful, she can say "Would you like a cup of tea, Professor?", and you can subsequently refer to him as the professor; and if you're repeating "the professor" too often, you're...repeating "the professor" too often, you need to find a different way of writing what you want to say. In dialogue (and in action), you should have no difficulty in portraying him as more cultured and educated than his younger colleagues; even the well-educated ones won't have had as long to have accumulated his breadth of education.
     
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