Sunday, June 11, 2006

Politics and messing with people's names

If you want to know what I've been up to --or even if you don't-- I'll tell you.

I'm in the middle of an editing exercise that I'm finding fascinating. Recently... (actually May 31st -- I'm the sort of person who simply has to check facts) my Dorchester editor, Alicia Condon, emailed that she liked my suggestion that maybe the heroine of Insufficient Mating Material ought to have a nickname.

The heroine has a royally long, formal, hyphenated name. I began to feel that constantly repeating the full name was a bit tedious, but I didn't have time before my deadline to put sufficient thought into shortening it. I'm doing so now.

Have you ever given much thought to nicknames? Just because a hunk comes into the heroine's life, and he decides to call her "Ro" (for example) doesn't mean that she thinks of herself as "Ro" all of a sudden, when she has spent thirty years as Rowena, or Ro-Ro, or Janey, or I.

The rest of her friends and family won't suddenly start thinking of her as "Ro" or addressing her as "Ro".

Will the hunk introduce Rowena to his friends as "Ro" or "Rowena"? How will Rowena feel about mere acquaintances using the "private" name?

Is this an alien idea?

Different nationalities have different sensibilities about how they are addressed, and by whom. My Japanese friends are scrupulous about calling me Rowena-san. When I lived in Germany, it was considered important to address a lady as "Frau" plus her last name whether or not she was married... unless of course, the lady had a title such as "Graefin". In England, I would never have dreamed of calling my teachers anything other than Miss ... or Mrs. ... or Mr. ... . I admit that I am secretly taken aback that six-year-old schoolchildren call me "Rowena".

When in Rome... OK. But I'm writing about an alien world which is far from a modern, American democracy (or even republic).

Factor in that the nicknamee is a member of a royal family, and life becomes really interesting.

Up the ante. Suppose the nickname isn't a variant of her given name... "Sugarpuss"? Suppose there's a slightly rude innuendo?

So, maybe only the hero uses the nickname. Does he ease into using it? At first, does he substitute "Ro" in conversation, where before he might have addressed the heroine as "Princess Rowena-Jane"? At what point does he wonder whether "Ro" can cook, and what "Ro" is like in bed. You might suppose that he wondered such things from a distance before he even learned the heroine's name!

Anyway, for what it's worth, this is what I'm wrestling with this week.

Best wishes,


  1. Ahh, Ro-Ro! A topic near and dear to my heart.

    I don't suppose anyone has ever called you "Wena" or worse..."Weenie"? (and lived...)

    Totally, nicknames are part of world building as much as the lack of nicknames are. Nicknames can show the reader how formal or informal a culture is, if nicknames are common (are they are here in the US...where Robert becomes, for reasons I cannot fathom, Bobby).

    If they're something personal and private then that also tells us something about the society. Maybe only lower class persons use nicknames. Or maybe only upper class feel free enough to do so.

    Military or military-like cultures seem replete with nicknames, either truncating surnames or tacking on titles for life. "Cookie" for the guy flipping burgers in the KP. And "Sarge" may stay Sarge long after he's left the service.

    Are your characters pilots? Pilots are very nickname prone. If you look at Loree Draude Hirshcman's SHE'S JUST ANOTHER NAVY PILOT she explains all the pilot nicknames which stemmed from radio call signs. Her husband's is "Hairball". Hers was "Rowdy" (it rhymed with her maiden name). I gather there was some affection behind them but mostly it was efficiency. Keying a mike and shouting "Lieutenant Rowena Beaumont Cherry, the enemy is on your tail!" might just not leave time for you to be around to act on that.

    Right, Weenie? ::Linnea ducks and hides::

    You can call me "Sinful".

    At any rate, it's all part of your world building process.

    Oh, keep in mind you can also have a culture where surnames are NEVER used in public lest some evil demon usurp the person's only nicknames are used.

    Go for it. ;-) ~Linnea aka Sinful

  2. Somehow when reading your post I was visualizing The Fifth Element when Corbin Dallas asks Lelu her name and she spouts off at least twenty.

    So what did your heroine's mother call her? And her father? There had to be something when they hung that long and hyphenated moniker on her. Maybe her nanny had a nickname?

    I, alas, had several nicknames in college. The most endearing being Fuzzy, the results of a bad perm. Also Hud, which was my maiden named shortened. As for my husband, he always was called by his last name. I swear when I met him I thought his first name was Hobie, like the surf gear. I was sure I was dating a guy named Hobie Holby until he gave up his deep dark secret. His name was Rob.

    So good luck coming up with a nick-name. And making it fit. Of course it could also lead to some new problems between you hero and heroine. Which is always fun.

  3. Ro-Ro is of course the official abbreviation for Roll-On, Roll-Off in cross channel ferry parlance.

    As an indomitable virgin during my school years, (not only a Prefect, but daughter of Faculty!!!) the incongurity amused me at the time.

    Wena? Never, but then, I have always been one of the tallest girls around, and at an all girls school that meant playing roles like Ferrovius in Androcles and the Lion.

    No, I don't personally like Wena. To me, it sounds kind of... incontinent.

    Best wishes,

  4. Cindy... Fuzzy!!!

    Thank you for the Fifth Element thought. I liked that movie.

    Nicknames aren't much in vogue in the Tigron Empire's upper echelons. It's the rogue branch of the family, who have been hiding out on Earth who introduce them to startled society.

    As for the heroine's mother, she didn't stay around to breastfeed, let alone dub the heroine with a pet name.

    I have a doozy of a nickname for the heroine. The hero gives it to her, it is very private...only used by him, and it fulfils a Tarot
    prediction at the end (though I imagine not a lot of people will spot it.)