1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    nicknames instead of names

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Jan 23, 2017.

    What do you guys think of characters with nicknames (obvious nicknames) and only ever referring to them by said nickname? My MC only has a nickname. Can this work? Or will it get old after a while? I've thought about slipping in a reference to reveal my MC's real name, but it doesn't ever seem to quite fit and I'm not sure it's needed. Here's the thing. There's really only one other character who calls my MC by this nickname. I am writing in close third from the POV of the main character with the nickname. I think I like it so far. The nickname is serving like a name. It's just that no one would ever give their child a name like this. I would love to hear some of your experiences using nicknames.
     
  2. Reed R Gale

    Reed R Gale Member

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    Honestly, I feel like nicknames can feel more personal than "real" names a lot of the time; I don't think there'd ever be any problem. Perhaps noting at some point that that isn't the MC's actual name might clear up some lingering questions for readers, but never mentioning the given name might be more powerful than doing so.
     
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  3. Shadow Reeves

    Shadow Reeves Active Member

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    Matthew Riley does this a lot, especially in his Scarecrow series. because they are all in the military they have call signs and are introduced as Elizabeth "Fox" Gant or Gena "Mother" Newman.

    Then are known as their call signs by the military characters or as their proper names by family and spouses.

    If you wanted a reveal, his mum could call him by his full name when scolding him, which all present giggle at, or something similar.
     
  4. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I don't see any issue. I think pretty well any reader is just going to register the nickname as the character's name - even if it's obviously not the name their parents gave them, if it's what they're referred to as, it's their name. I know I wouldn't question it overmuch. Probably a 'give your readers some credit' sort of thing; they'll get it.

    I have a character who's called Fox and the mc briefly wonders if it's her last name or a nickname, but it's not relevant to anything going on and never comes up meaningfully. Another character is called Jackal (bit of a trend here, I know) and it's never brought up at all - I think it's obvious it's a nickname, whereas Fox could actually be a name, so to me Fox is actually the more comment-worthy one.

    When it's plainly a nickname because it's an inanimate object or an animal (outside of like, Kitty etc) or something, as a reader I tend to just roll with it.
     
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  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I do this a lot when writing military or police type characters - i generally briefly mention their propper name but mostly refer to them by their nickname as their colleagues do.
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    If you're in close third, you'd use the term the character herself would use. If the character thinks of herself as "Momma Bear", then that's the word you should use.

    But if the character doesn't, you shouldn't. And since there's only one other person who uses this nickname, I think it would be significant for your MC to have adopted it to that degree. Like, if only one person in the world called me "Stumpy" and I started calling myself Stumpy, then that other person clearly has a lot of influence over me... and this could be something you want to convey. But if it isn't, I'd be careful with the nickname. (Alternatively, your OP meant there's only one other character in the story, rather than only one person who uses the nickname. Not sure...)
     
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  7. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    Just, if both the real name and nickname are both being used, make an early and strong connection between the two of them so your readers don't get confused as to how many people there are. Shakespeare and other stories that deal with English nobility tend to throw me when there are characters like (pulling names and titles out of my you know where) Dudley, Earl of Hogwart, the nation of Narnia, and the supporters of the late Queen Lilli:
    Referring to characters alternately by their title and proper name, or name and nickname, or nationality, can get real confusing real fast.
     
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  8. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    Good questions. I agree with the comments so far. However, I feel knowing as much as we can about the main character is best, including all aliases and the real name. Make it as personal as possible. I have one character that I call three things, first name (alone), last name (alone), and title, Dr. _______. I use it variously depending on the context. I have one minor character that is just call "Flex." Yes, a henchman, more or less.

    Peace, Tex
     
  9. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    I'm suddenly reminded by the OP's question of something that happened when I was in the service. One of the guys was nicknamed "Flea". Dunno if it was a Chili Peppers reference or what, but that was what everyone below officer rank called him pretty much all the time. My girlfriend came out to visit me, and when I introduced her to him, I said something like "Tif, this is Flea," to which he responded, a little shyly, "Actually, it's Eric."

    I had no idea he had a name....
     
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  10. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    In two of my novels, one of the main characters is known by a nickname. To all intents and purposes, those are their names.

    But in both cases I do give their full names. When I fall in love with a character I want to know everything about them. There's one such character who adopts a nickname in her youth and the author never reveals her birth name, which drives me nuts! In one case, I have the character's grandma use her full name because Grandma likes to be contrary. In the other case, her parents call her by her full name because it's the name they gave her and that's how they think of her. But 99% of the time, they're referred to by nickname.
     
  11. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    You should be all right so long as the reader isn't confused. I did a little thing once where the MC had no name and every other character called him something different. Basically, each character he knew called him whatever they liked, which obviously opened a few scenes where several secondary characters were in a room with the MC and would get into arguments about what the MC should be called. The reason for this was that the MC was an orphan/refugee that had moved through several surrogate homes/planets. And he ultimately thought of himself as having no real name, home or permanent place in the universe. It worked. That particular WIP had many problems, but that wasn't one of them.
     
  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Sure nicknames or call signs (or whatever you want to call them) are alright.
    I use both, nick and real names for a small amount of characters.

    So sure, write them the way you want. Though it would be a fun little thing if
    at the end of the story you reveal their real name and it is something funny,
    or doesn't fit them. :p
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    You can use nicknames, certainly. You can use them exclusively if you wish, or in combination with giving the real names of the characters. There are novels in which nicknames are used and the real names of the characters are never provided.
     
  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks for the responses, everyone. At first, I thought I was kind of using the nickname as a placeholder, but as I write on I'm kind of falling in love with this nickname and with the way the story is coming out. I must still be in the honeymoon stage of writing a novel. Even though I already thinking of making a major change to the beginning part, I don't see it as a big deal because I really want this story to work.

    None of the potential changes I might make affect the nickname. The nickname kind of creates this somewhat dreaminess to my prose. Revealing a real name would kill that. I don't know how much sense that makes. I think it's the best nickname ever. Well, maybe not ever, but for this story. Using this nickname throughout the novel does something, I think, that a real name couldn't do in the particular story I'm writing.

    This is the biggest problem in my mind. The POV. I actually don't think it's close third as much as third limited, but I'm not sure that makes too much of a difference here. No one else except for one character refers to the MC by the nickname. Yet I want to use it throughout the story like my MC has no other name. Like this is a normal name when clearly it's not. The story starts with how my MC gets this nickname. Then the story is basically about the MC and the person who thinks of the MC by this nickname. I kind of love it, but I know I might be breaking a rule here. But then again, I'm not so sure. Third limited but not close -- do you think it's still a problem? I never have my MC think about their real name or their nickname. They just go with it. Can I expect the reader to just go with it too?
     
  15. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. You can call your characters whatever you want, regardless of the POV. Write well enough, and no one will complain. Write badly, and following every "rule" in the book won't help.

    Anybody remember Piggy's real name from Lord of the Flies?
     
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  16. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That

    And also think of Lee Child , he frequently uses temporary 'nick names' to refer to minor characters just through the way Reacher percieves them - so hes confronted by a gang of halfwits and he'll think of them as 'red top' 'piggy eyes' 'baseball bat' or whatever for the time it takes for him to demolish them
     
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  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I'm not sure it was ever provided. I certainly don't remember it if it was.
     
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  18. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    Neither am I, although a tiny, drunk portion of my mind whispers "Eustace"....
     
  19. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    Not if he or she is your main character in almost every scene. Names of those we are close to can be easily remembers. But minor characters? I would never do that. Peace, Tex
     

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