Nicknames for Characters

It is okay to refer to a character using more than one name?

In life, we’re often referred to by a nick name, a family name or a full name depending on who is talking to us.

I call my niece, MoMo. She calls me TiTi. She’s the only person who does that.

At work or formal situations, I go by Kristina.

My family and close friends call me Tina.

But no one calls me Kris. It’s not a short form of my name I like. If a person uses it, my brain doesn’t even register I’m being addressed.

But in a novel, is all this fair game?

I think it depends on the writing.

In the last case, a character could refer to another by a name they don’t like. This would tell you something about the character. Maybe he is socially inept. Maybe he is trying to be irritating.

Short forms make characters close to each other. There is an intimating between them that wouldn’t be there without the endearing name.

A character insisting that others use her full name could be giving a message. Maybe she doesn’t like the person she’s talking to so insists that person be formal and kept at a distance. Or maybe she is  trying to appear professional.

My only caution is the nickname must be clear. The reader needs to know who is speaking or being spoken too. If too many forms are used too often, the reader may become confused or annoyed and stop reading.

And none of us want that.

Do you have any tips on using more than one name for a character and is it worth the risk?

Thanks for reading . . .

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12 thoughts on “Nicknames for Characters

  1. Names seem to be my biggest hurdle. I usually write shorts and tend to use more she or he. But I’m just starting my first book and when I think of names I immediately think of people I know and that’s not always a good thing, lol. I want my characters to be familiar to the reader but not familiar to a ‘living’ person. 🙂

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    1. Hi Helen, Thanks for commenting. Once I kept a copy of the list of people in the Manitoba marathon. It’s pages of names, broken into age groups. It was a great place to get my imagination going. The other thing I do is google professions. So say I’m writing about a firefighter, I read firefighter news and websites. Then I can find names of people actually in a profession and in the age group and are of country I am looking for. Good luck with your first book.

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  2. Take a look at Cherryh’s foreigner series if you want to see a “master” at her craft when it comes to multiple names. Early Cherryh books are harder to read (eg The Faded Sun series) because she has “always” required the reader to keep with her, but she has gotten much better at helping the reader keep up as she has gained experience in writing.

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  3. That can be tricky. My name for instance is Catherine but that can have to many short forms, and if the change is shown nicely that can work. A nickname that has nothing to do with the original name is going to be harder. If think if one character uses that nickname for another and only that character, it could work. Does that make sense?

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  4. My characters often ending up nicknaming each other! Stuart became ‘Stu’, Courtney became ‘C’, and my main character had a stage name of ‘Ace,’ which he hated but the lead singer insisted he use. It turned out the stage name had a hidden meaning that I didn’t discover until my second revision!
    So names and initials are usually pretty important in my stories, but it often takes a while for me to get them right. 🙂

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    1. Kirsten, I think that’s great the characters work their own nicknames out. I changed a characters name halfway through a novel and didn’t notice until my husband pointed it out. So who changed the name? me Or my character? I think that question will remain unanswered.

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  5. I love nicknames. When my characters automatically begin using nicknames for each other, I just let them do it! By then, the reader is familiar with the pov folks’ full names, and I make sure their nicknames are obvious shortened versions. Nicknames show intimacy building between the main characters and add warmth and drama to the story. It is definitely worth the risk!

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