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message 1: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 721 comments Mod
Hello fellow writers.

Today, I wanted to ask you how you approach shortened versions of character names. Something close friends or relatives would use instead of saying the full name - such as Will instead of William.

I admit I avoided using the short versions like a plague - partially because I used a lot of placeholders in the early stages, partially because I feared I'd confuse the potential readers. Looking back, there are very few cases when I can imagine a shorter version - the only case I actually used so far is in the early draft of book two where her father calls Princess Nadyenne just 'Nady' for short.

So, are shorter versions something you use frequently, or not so much? And for how many characters do you think it's safe to not confuse the readers with these 'alternate' names? For those of you who read a lot, has it happened to you that you saw way too many 'alt names'?

Or, maybe, is this yet another thing I'm overthinking?


message 2: by Phillip (new)

Phillip Murrell | 397 comments I not only use short version of names, but many have superhero code names too. I think we give readers far too little credit in keeping up. If the story is interesting, they know Smith is also Bill.


message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter Martuneac | 97 comments I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing so long as it's made clear to the readers. Technically both of my main characters in my current series are ONLY called by the shortened version of their names.


message 4: by Tim (new)

Tim Schaefer | 27 comments What name would the other characters use for the person? Nearly everyone is known by a nickname to those who are close to them. A husband is likely to address his wife by a nickname rather than using her formal name. In an intimate relationship, such formality would seem rather cold. But someone at the office is likely to address her by her given name.


message 5: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1122 comments The biggest thing I have to watch out for with shortened names, such as Will, for example is if I decide to change it, a universal 'replace' doesn't work because word containing the shortened version will automatically change.

With a name like Princess Nadyenne, if it's her father calling her Nady, that's okay, but of course one of her subjects/their subjects would have to refer to her in a formal way.

If there are too many shortened names it may look slangy, which is again okay if that is the feel you are going for; if not, then the full name may work better.


message 6: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 721 comments Mod
M.L. wrote: "The biggest thing I have to watch out for with shortened names, such as Will, for example is if I decide to change it, a universal 'replace' doesn't work because word containing the shortened version will automatically change."

This was one of my biggest concerns in the early stages. Not by false inclusion (Word has a tick for 'only full words' so it won't replace parts) but by forgetting to replace the alternate names.
I do realize that these informal names are limited to friends and family but I still wonder if too many cases would not cause confusion.
And, as I eventually realized, many of the names are quite a challenge to imagine a shorter version for. In fact, the only other one apart from the Princess is the MC, Tyr'eshal, which can go by just 'Tyr' (and this is, coincidentally, only used by the Princess so far).

M.L. wrote: "If there are too many shortened names it may look slangy, which is again okay if that is the feel you are going for; if not, then the full name may work better."

Yep, this is pretty much my concern. Considering the main characters are knight-like when it comes to their morals/values, overusing shorter versions might feel out of place.


message 7: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1122 comments Tomas wrote: "M.L. wrote: "M.L. wrote: "If there are too many shortened names it may look slangy, which is again okay if that is the feel you are going for; if not, then the full name may work better."

Yep, this is pretty much my concern. Considering the main characters are knight-like when it comes to their morals/values, overusing shorter versions might feel out of place."


I think your concern is spot on. It has to do with the tone, what is the writer's attitude toward his work: is it real high fantasy, or something else, a mashup or whatever. For high fantasy, if you get too casual the characters may sound like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Nothing against TMNT, I like them, they're funny. :))

As far as too many causing confusion, if you think they could, you're probably right. Good luck! Be sure to post a cover when it's published.


message 8: by Micah (last edited Jan 27, 2020 12:11PM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments It's perfectly normal to use them in the right situations.

Full names are used for formal introductions, official occasions, and as indications of power position (a parent who normally uses a nickname for a child will use their full name when speaking in a disciplinarian way), and between people who do not yet have a personal connection.

Nicknames would be used between friends and family and in informal situations.

I am reminded of how they are used in The Witcher stories. Princess Cirilla, for example, is most often referred to by her nickname Ciri. However, when she's introduced or spoken of at court her full name is used. When her grandmother talks to her privately she sometimes calls her The Lion Cub of Cintra.

And personally, I call my wife by her middle name (which her immediate family also use) but use her first name when introducing her to people other than my closest friends, or when speaking with doctors and others in a business or official setting.

My older brother has no less than three names used in different company (first name, shortened first name, middle name).

So it's perfectly normal and should never be an issue for the reader as long as it's made clear that the character has these various names.

The exception to prove the rule is me. My name is Micah but my friends call me … Micah.


message 9: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (last edited Jan 27, 2020 12:43PM) (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 721 comments Mod
M.L. wrote: "Good luck! Be sure to post a cover when it's published."
Thanks for the encouragement. I'll probably post it way before - and ask for people's thoughts. Current ETA: Spring. Subject to change.
EDIT: I'll also have to double-check the definitions to see if the story better fits 'epic fantasy', 'high fantasy' or 'sword and sorcery' subgenres when I'm getting close to publishing.

Micah wrote: "And personally, I call my wife by her middle name..."
Well, I don't have a middle name and neither do my characters, but it's a good point nevertheless. Ciri is also a good example. I think it also goes for how well the full name sounds - if it gives little reason for shortening (Geralt would probably fit there) then it might not be used in a different version while people with a part of their name being a tongue-twister will likely get an adjusted version very fast.

Would any of you say that it's good idea to give this question about short names to my betas when they're done with the story?


message 10: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1122 comments Nicknames can get interesting.
Ciri works well, it's kind of a cute name. But does anyone call the 'hero' Geralt "Gerry?" Hey, Gerry, great kill there! Way to go! :)
There's sort of a sexist thing there, if you can see it. In Game of Thrones lots people called Danaerys 'Dani.' But I can't think of any of the lead men that were called by diminutives. Tyrie (for Tyrion), or hmm, Jonny for Jon Snow. Branny for Bran. Robby for Baratheon. (I'll stop there. :P)

Anyway. Ahem. About asking the betas, sure, that's a good idea. The caveat there is since they have finished the book, maybe more than once, they will already know who everyone is. Or they should. Different from a new reader approaching it for the first time.


message 11: by Micah (last edited Jan 27, 2020 01:51PM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments M.L. wrote: "...There's sort of a sexist thing..."

Well … remember that Ciri is young. None of the sorceresses get their names shortened except for Yennifer who sometimes is called Yen by those super close to her.

I've known plenty of people who as kids were called Billy or something similar, but who in adult life use their full name.


message 12: by M.L. (last edited Jan 27, 2020 03:39PM) (new)

M.L. | 1122 comments That's true, of course, people shorten names. Most Williams I know are Bill or Will; Katherines are Kathy, Kate. Medieval times are not known for equal treatment of others so sexist or not you do have to stay true to the times, more or less. (Actually, I thought someone would bring up GoT's Ned Stark, Neddard, Ed. Of course he didn't end up very well; maybe it was name confusion; that and the Lannisters.)

In general, with names I do think it is important to keep it as clear as possible, and if there are lots of names, don't clutter things up with extraneous monikers. That said, you can't worry about it too much. So, give yourself permission to write it!


message 13: by W. (new)

W. Boutwell | 157 comments Malila Evanova Chui packs a lot of info into a name.
Her father's name was Evan but is of Chinese extraction
Her mother must therefore be the Russian or Rumanian.
The given name is arbitrary, so as not to be a burden to her in the repressive country into which the wee lass has been born. So we have probably a 1/4 oriental (letting her have green eyes) who has like a mule, none of the hope for posterity nor pride in ancestry.


message 14: by Xanxa (new)

Xanxa | 47 comments I don't have any specific policy for shortening names. For some characters, I always use their full names. Some I always use their shortened versions. In dialogue, I often have characters calling each other by shortened names or pet names.

Some examples:

Lyandro gets shortened to Lyle
Caratacuus gets shortened to Carl or Cara (depending on who is speaking to him)
Nyraldin gets shortened to Nye
Aravind gets shortened to Ari
Parsivaal gets shortened to Parsi


message 15: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1122 comments Again, depending on the story, monikers can be quite fun and descriptive. For example, Mad-Eye Moody, Little Finger, Stable Genius. :)


message 16: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 787 comments I agree with M.L's first comment about if it's similar to a word it may get autocorrected. Otherwise, I say it's fine to do in certain situations to show authenticity to the book in a real fashion. In my book a character is named Melina and a few times she's referred to as Mel but again I only throw the shortened name around a few times. I think it's good to do but wouldn't rely on it.


message 17: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 721 comments Mod
M.L. wrote: "Anyway. Ahem. About asking the betas, sure, that's a good idea. The caveat there is since they have finished the book, maybe more than once, they will already know who everyone is."

Well, my current betas are roughly 0%, 10%, 15%, and 25% in so I might as well ask when I send them the next section... In fact, one of them is actually using Tyr for Tyr'eshal in his comments so I guess that one is pretty safe.

I think that names with apostrophes in them might be prone to get shortened at that point unless the result would be extra-weird.

As for outright monikers, that's something I'm keeping exclusive to the members of Shadowflame Cult (the secondary antagonist faction) who use them mostly to mask their real identity. I had that treatment for the main protagonist faction early in the story but those were just placeholders.


message 18: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4333 comments Mod
I think you're overthinking it, Tomas. I don't recall ever having an issue reading a book in which the characters had nicknames or shortened names, etc. When writing, I don't really think about whether the reader will be able to follow if I use shortened names, nicknames, etc. If they're into the story, it shouldn't be an issue.

In my first novel, the main character is called Del by most everyone. His dad, who suffers from dementia, calls him Rupert. When he's not having an episode, he calls him Delbert. In my second novel, I have two characters who rarely refer to anyone by their real names and often call them by nicknames of their own personal choosing. (Example, there's a character named Tom, but one guy calls him Almanzo and there's no reason given as to why).

The only times as I get confused is when I'm reading a book with a lot of drab characters with bland names. I don't know why, but almost every time I try to read a book with a lot of scientists or soldiers or whatever, they always have the same dry personality and always have boring names like John Carlson or James Benson or Carl Johnson and it gets really confusing. Bring the characters to life and people will keep track of who they are, no matter what their name.


message 19: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline McLean Francis | 17 comments In my first book published last September, I had the character introduce herself to a client, "Hi, my name is Margaret, but you can call me Meg." Subsequent to that, the only people who called her Margaret were her mother, teachers, etc.


message 20: by Laura (new)

Laura Engelhardt | 73 comments In my opinion, nicknames are fine. I see them in books all the time. In general, I think the key with names is to use repetition when introducing new characters, not to spring too many variations on readers too close in time after their introduction, & to be consistent. With sci-fi/fantasy worlds that use lots of lengthy & complicated names, it becomes tricky when you have too many variations, but pet names/nicknames are super-helpful because 14-syllable 2-word names can be hard for a reader to track. Especially once you add in titles. I do like character lists when you have a lot of people with hefty names.

I'd would steer clear of having every character get a pet name, though. In 19th Century Russian literature, everyone has family names, middle names, last names, and multiple names are used for all characters. It totally makes sense because it was true-to-life, but I found it a bit challenging as a reader.

So I'd say somewhere between Russian literature names and one name per character is the way to go :)


message 21: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 721 comments Mod
Laura wrote: "With sci-fi/fantasy worlds that use lots of lengthy & complicated names, it becomes tricky when you have too many variations, but pet names/nicknames are super-helpful because 14-syllable 2-word names can be hard for a reader to track."

Fortunately for me (and the world at large), I'm unable to create THAT insane names.

Laura wrote: "I'd would steer clear of having every character get a pet name, though."

That is a good point. In my case, I'd probably do with ~5 chars max (out of 50-70 that appear during the whole story)

Dwayne wrote: "I think you're overthinking it, Tomas."

Very likely but isn't that how one learns? By thinking about stuff, asking other people...? I know I should worry less about small things like this but I still think talking about these things helps me to learn.
I'm glad to hear this should not be a major problem for a small group of characters and I'll look and see which could get a familiar name. As I said earlier, many of my names are in the 6-10 characters range and I (because I was overthinking it, of course) went through several ideas for most characters to make sure the name is not a tongue twister.


message 22: by Ross (new)

Ross Eberle As a lot of my characters are aliens from another planet, I seldom use nicknames or shortened names. The only exceptions to this rule are Maya and Brent, two characters who are supporters of the main cast. But some folks might also call those two main characters.

The names Henry and Holly can't be shortened as they're already short. Anyway, this is just my two cents. Take it or leave it.


message 23: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4333 comments Mod
Ross wrote: "The name... Henry... can't be shortened..."

Hank.


message 24: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 787 comments Boom Dwayne just made it happen lol


message 25: by Ross (new)

Ross Eberle Well, I'll be darned!

But I wouldn't want to be called 'Hank' as a nick-name. ;-)


message 26: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Sells | 120 comments I give characters whatever name suits them and then they get shortened by other characters as feels appropriate. I mean, that's how it tends to work in life, so why not also in fiction?

Example: in my latest WIP, the main character's name is Jennifer. Several characters call her Jen when talking to her, her dad tends to call her Jenny, and one of her brothers, who is a little eccentric with his nicknames for everyone, calls her Fenna. I don't think that's going to confuse anyone... but I suppose I could be wrong! lol


message 27: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Sells | 120 comments Dwayne wrote: "Ross wrote: "The name... Henry... can't be shortened..."

Hank."


I actually don't think I knew that Hank was short for Henry, but then that would be a US thing, I guess.

In the UK, Harry is 'short for' Henry, even though it's not any shorter at all!


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