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Changing character names

rvbuilder

I recently volunteered to be an editor, and I eagerly await my first assignment. Over the time I've been reading stories on SOL, I've seen many cringeworthy mistakes, but the one that bugs me the most is when a character's name changes in the middle of the story. For example, I just read a story whose TITLE in part used the female character's name, but for some reason the author called her by a totally different name for several paragraphs. This is very strange and would definitely have benefitted from some editorial involvement.

Crumbly Writer

@rvbuilder

It's actually not that uncommon, and something worthy of editors' review. What often happens, is either you inadvertently change the spelling, or you start using the protagonist from a different story (since both are still prominent in your consciousness).

If you notice it in a story you're reading, PLEASE, inform the author! You'll not only aid them, but everyone else who reads the story and gets annoyed at the slip-up.

Switch Blayde

@rvbuilder

It just happened to me. In my first novel, I have a Pastor Hathaway. In my second novel, I have a Paster Harding.

After all my edits and several Beta readers, no one noticed I used Hathaway instead of Harding in my second novel twice within a few paragraphs of each other. It wasn't until my most recent read-thru (after having the novel sit idle for more than 6 months) that I spotted it.

Also, in the novel I'm currently writing, the protagonist's first name is Lincoln. I keep calling him Victor. I have no idea why. Hopefully I'm catching all the errors.

And it's happened to me before. It's one reason I don't like writing more than one story at a time. It's too easy to get the characters mixed up, and not only the names. Also their personalities and traits.

richardshagrin

@Switch Blayde

Also, in the novel I'm currently writing, the protagonist's first name is Lincoln. I keep calling him Victor. I have no idea why.


Maybe he is a winner. (the victor.)

Grant

Part of the issue is nick names.
I find it difficult to follow some stories, particularly those with lots of characters, then they can be referred to by 2 (or even 3) different names. Their name, a shortened version of their name, their nick name, a shortened version of their nick name, and sometimes even yet another nick name.
It took me quite a while to figure out that Betsy can be a nick name for Elisabeth (here in Australia it's Liz).

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  pappyo  tisoz
Crumbly Writer

@Grant

Another, less obvious problem, occurs when you introduce a public figure. You introduce them with their full title, have most people refer to them by their last name, to show the proper respect (if they hope to keep their jobs), while the main character might instead use their first name (once they've developed a personal relationship). What that means, in real terms, is the author keeps using the man's title, his family name and also his first name, all in the same passage. That gets fairly confusing rather quickly!

pappyo

@Grant

Or also Betty.

There were worse nicknames in recent centuries that seem today to have no relation to each other. Nancy for Anna, Fanny for Veronica and Margaret & Rebecca (where I'm not sure which is the nickname for the other)

Switch Blayde

@pappyo

seem today to have no relation to each other.


The nickname Jack for John. That one boggles my mind.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

The nickname Jack for John. That one boggles my mind.

That's only because John Ass sounds so pathetic! 'D

Replies:   rvbuilder
pappyo

@Switch Blayde

But my uncle was named Jack (not John). It took until I was a teenager to learn they were the same.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@pappyo

But my uncle was named Jack (not John). It took until I was a teenager to learn they were the same.


I was thinking of John F. Kennedy. He was called Jack. And then he married a Jacki.

Replies:   pappyo  JohnBobMead
richardshagrin

@pappyo

nicknames in recent centuries that seem today to have no relation to each other. Nancy for Anna, Fanny for Veronica and Margaret


Margaret, if she doesn't go by Marge, becomes Meg which transforms to Peg, and then slides into Peggy.

pappyo

@Switch Blayde

And I know Christine who's married to Christopher, and we used to know Dana who was married to Dana. Oy vey.

Replies:   AmigaClone
AmigaClone

@pappyo

I know a Robert who has an ex wife named Robin.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@AmigaClone


I know a Robert who has an ex wife named Robin.

And I know a Robin named Robert whose ex-wife is named "Squawk!" 'D (His current wife is called "tweetie".)

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

His current wife is called "tweetie".


She must be a real tweety bird.

JohnBobMead

@Switch Blayde

My grandfather was John, his war-bride English wife called him Jack, and they named their first son, my uncle, Jack. She died a couple of years after my father was born, so they didn't have much time for confusion around the house as to who was being referred to when she said Jack.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
JohnBobMead

Starting a glossary right from the beginning is a good thing. Lazlo's Jade Force of Misera needed one, given all the various names he was tossing out left and right. In one story he had the country, Uptal in the Ringland continent. In a later story he referred to Upal, in the Ringland continent; a bit of digging makes it clear they are probably the same country.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@JohnBobMead

My grandfather was John, his war-bride English wife called him Jack, and they named their first son, my uncle, Jack. She died a couple of years after my father was born, so they didn't have much time for confusion around the house as to who was being referred to when she said Jack.

What your family never told you, was that your grandmother only called him "Jack", cause he spent so much time jacking off! 'D

Normally, Jack is not a common synonym for John.

Crumbly Writer

@JohnBobMead

Starting a glossary right from the beginning is a good thing. Lazlo's Jade Force of Misera needed one, given all the various names he was tossing out left and right. In one story he had the country, Uptal in the Ringland continent. In a later story he referred to Upal, in the Ringland continent; a bit of digging makes it clear they are probably the same country.

I've been told that 20 - 30 is the normal cut-off for NOT needing a character list for a book (i.e. if you only have 20 characters, there's no need to attach a character list). In my very first story (both on SOL and published) I have over 100 different names over the course of six books, so the character list was necessary, almost from the very start.

With each subsequent book, I'd list the primary characters at the start, then add the secondary characters included (either from earlier books or in the current book), but I'd drop any from who weren't included in multiple chapters or who weren't referenced in the current book. That helps to keep the lists manageable. There's no sense listing anyone there's no sense searching for.

maroon

@pappyo

Nancy for Anna


This one I'd never heard of in real life. The only time I remember this being used was in a Louis L'Amour novel, where there was a female friendly to the main character, and a mysterious evil woman. I forget which was which, but ending of the book had the big reveal where the reader was informed that Nancy and Anne were 2 forms of the same name, so the villainess and the friendly female were the same person. I've known lots of Anne's and Nancy's and none of them ever used the other name.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Normally, Jack is not a common synonym for John.


This says otherwise:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_(given_name)

In English Jack is traditionally used as the diminutive form of John; it can be used also as diminutive for Jacob and sometimes for James due to his french form Jacques. Jack is now also a proper name in its own right.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer


Normally, Jack is not a common synonym for John.


I don't know about where you come from CW, but in England and Australia Jack is the most common alternate name for John. I don;t know why it is, but it was inherited here from the Brits.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_(given_name)

In English Jack is traditionally used as the diminutive form of John;

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Normally, Jack is not a common synonym for John.


It's very common. John F Kennedy was called Jack.

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

It's very common. John F Kennedy was called Jack.

Does that mean John F Kennedy was very common?

awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

I recall Yorkshire and England cricketer John Hampshire was suddenly referred to as Jack Hampshire and even Jackie Hampshire by the media. I'd never heard of Jack as a diminutive of John before that, but now I know what to look for I see it moderately often.

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

In English Jack is traditionally used as the diminutive form of John; it can be used also as diminutive for Jacob and sometimes for James due to his french form Jacques. Jack is now also a proper name in its own right.

I daresay, most of the references uses of "Jack" as a synonym for "John" predate my existence by several generations. I doubt there are many living people named "Jack" who also go by "John".

There might be a few, but I doubt readers would accept it without stopping to reread the page two or three time trying to figure it out.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I don't know about where you come from CW, but in England and Australia Jack is the most common alternate name for John. I don;t know why it is, but it was inherited here from the Brits.

All right. I stand corrected. I'll chalk it up to a 'non-U.S.' thing.

Replies:   JohnBobMead
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

It's very common. John F Kennedy was called Jack.

Wasn't "Jack" his brother?

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

I doubt there are many living people named "Jack" who also go by "John".


All right. I stand corrected. I'll chalk it up to a 'non-U.S.' thing.


Maybe not currently living but there are a few historically significant figures whose proper name was "John" but went by "Jack".

JFK being one of them.

Replies:   JohnBobMead
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Wasn't "Jack" his brother?


No, his brother was Robert "Bobby" Kennedy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_F._Kennedy

richardshagrin

And Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy. And some sisters.

JohnBobMead

@Crumbly Writer

That's why I mentioned that my grandmother was from England. It's very much a Commonwealth thing, I haven't come across it in the US, either. But it's been the most common nickname for John in the British Isles for at least three hundred years. The Scot's tended more towards "Jock" as the nickname for John in earlier times, although they also went with "Jack"; in this case, I think it was more of an accent thing, how they pronounced the word, they used them interchangeably. Not something you'd learn in the US unless you had an interest in British Isles history and culture, which I did, from an early age. It's part of why I keep finding myself using British spellings for words, even though the only Commonwealth nation I've been to is Canada, and that not in the last thirty years; I read so much stuff published in the British isles that I imprinted on it. Heck, even referring to Commonwealth Nations is unusual for a Yank.

JohnBobMead

@Dominions Son

Irish-Americans retain a _lot_ of their cultural roots, those who don't drop the Irish from in front of American; the Kennedys are Irish-American. Boston, New York City, and Chicago are bastions of Irish-American heritage. It was very obvious during the six years I lived in Chicago, although in Chicago _everyone_ retained their ancestral culture, which was good and bad. Great ethnic food. Third generation Americans who still spoke their ancestral tongue far better than they spoke American English. Chicago is _not_ a melting pot.

tisoz

@Grant

Guilty. I think I may have 1 idea why some scores may have been lowered.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

The other aspect is how you refer to existing characters. Do you use their first or last name? Do you use the last name in some situations (ex: a position of respect for some) and the first with others (ex: friends with other characters), or do you occasionally use nicknames for them? In those cases, you constantly have to worry with whether readers will remember which alternative belongs to whom.

That's one of those 'constant worries' in many circumstances when switching between different names, especially if, like me, you like to avoid constantly repeating the same name, word or phrase in close succession.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Do you use their first or last name? Do you use the last name in some situations (ex: a position of respect for some) and the first with others (ex: friends with other characters), or do you occasionally use nicknames for them?


I try to mimic real life and mix them. Some people know people by their nickname, some by their first name, some by only the family name, etc. You expect people to call people by the name they know them by. In the narrative I try to stick with the one name, but sometimes forget and mix them up there by using the nickname.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

In the narrative I try to stick with the one name, but sometimes forget and mix them up there by using the nickname.

When I do mix it up, I try to remind readers who I'm referring to, such as "Listen, Max," he said, addressing the doctor".

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

The nickname Jack for John. That one boggles my mind.

It boggles me - he was my father but I never saw him

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

It just happened to me. In my first novel, I have a Pastor Hathaway. In my second novel, I have a Paster Harding.
Also, in the novel I'm currently writing, the protagonist's first name is Lincoln. I keep calling him Victor. I have no idea why. Hopefully I'm catching all the errors.

This problem has been raised previously. The suggestion (and I am extending it) is to create a list of characters and assign short forms; for example Pastor Hathaway could be called XXZZ. When the story is completed you simply do an automatic search and correct

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

This problem has been raised previously. The suggestion (and I am extending it) is to create a list of characters and assign short forms; for example Pastor Hathaway could be called XXZZ. When the story is completed you simply do an automatic search and correct

Even better, keep a running list of name mistakes, where you substitute one name for another. Chances are, if you're doing it now, you'll continue doing it in the future. Then, just before you're ready to post a story (AFTER it's been completely edited) then run a global search and replace, correcting any name mistakes your editors never noticed.

rvbuilder

@Crumbly Writer

I guess I'm used to that one because my dad's middle name was John and he went by "Jack".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@rvbuilder

I guess I'm used to that one because my dad's middle name was John and he went by "Jack".

I'm used to name confusions. Each of my family's first names begins with a "V", so my parents were forever calling me by my brother's name. My mother would often start with one name, try another, and then run through the full list until she finally hit the correct one (which, after the first two, wasn't that hard). Heck, she even called my older brother, whose nickname was "Copy", "Coco", which was our dog's name. Generally, I'll respond to any name, whether it's mine or not. If someone looks like they might be talking to me, I'll respond.

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