WIP: I need help concerning nicknames!


I need help from readers and writers concerning nicknames in published works.  Everybody knows McDonald’s by the nickname Mickey D’s.  At least, I think they do.  I named my youngest son Daniel, and I refused, though, to allow anyone to call him Danny or Dan, because I liked and wanted Daniel.

I have come to a point in my work in progress where I seriously need to decide on a name for my detective.  Right now, I am using a Scrivener name generator produced name for my detective and I don’t like it.

I have decided on either Robert Richardson, or Richard Robertson and I will tell you why.  It has to do with nicknames.  Many nicknames can be made from Robert: Bob, Rob, Bert, and from Richardson: Rich.  Likewise many nicknames can be made from Richard; Rich, Ricky, and Robertson. These can be used interchangeably between Christian and Sir names, if need be.  This is most likely going to be a series, so this name will follow him throughout.

Questions though:  Do you really care for nicknames in what you are reading, or do they bother you? Do they get too confusing?  If the name stays the same in narrative, are nicknames more acceptable in dialog?  Or do they still trouble you?

I have read books that used nicknames in dialog without problem and it was easy to follow.  I have also read nicknames used in narrative and dialog that became too difficult to follow, especially at the beginning of a book.  I have a couple of humorous scenes in my WIP wherein the detective could get into trouble because of the use of nicknames, but I am unsure if the reader would enjoy that, or would it be too confusing?  This detective takes his work seriously, but has a rather not so serious sidekick.  The detective is fortyish, comes from a small town outside of Atlanta, GA (no, I won’t call him Bubba), and currently resides in Orlando, FL.

I know that he has sold 19 million copies of The Bat: The electrifying first appearance of Jo Nesbø’s detective, Harry Hole.  But I can’t go with anything like Hairy Hole…I just can’t do it.

What are your thoughts on reading books with nicknames? Do nicknames make a storyline too challenging to follow?  Do you have any suggestions on; perhaps, a different name besides the two that I am debating?

49 thoughts on “WIP: I need help concerning nicknames!

  1. 1. Another nickname for Richard is Dick.

    2. My personal take on shortened names or nicknames is what you describe in the questions. The name that the readers know the character as is what should be exclusively used in the narrative to avoid confusion. If people should know him as Richard then that’s what the narrator calls him. Rich, Richie, Dick, R, Richie Rich, Richinator, etc. are more for dialogue and to help demonstrate connection between characters. A parent might use the full name while friends use the shortened name. For example, my family calls me Charles and most of my friends call me Charlie. For very close and best friends, you can use quirky nicknames if it fits their persona and the culture. Again, this is a personal preference because switching the full name for a nickname in narrative can make a reader believe it’s another character for an instant. Then they have to get back into the story.

  2. I don’t have a problem with nicknames. What bothers me is when names aren’t used consistently. And, I get that different characters may call each other by different names. But, if Joe calls Richard Richie, then it should always be Richie when Joe is talking or thinking. Plus, the narrative voice (assuming that it’s 3rd person) should have a specific name for the character that is used consistently. If the narrative voice flips back and forth between Richard, Rich, Rick, Dick, Dickie, Richie, and Chard it gets a little annoying and confusing. Did any of that make sense?

  3. As someone who grew up with a nickname I hated (and can’t seem to get rid of when it comes to family) I’d say make sure the use of a nickname definitely provides insight into the MC, as well as his relationship with others. When I hear “Missy” I immediately know it’s a family member or someone I grew up with and I’m immediately taken back to childhood…Which can be a good thing or bad thing depending on who the person saying my name is. If his sidekick uses various nicknames in the beginning to get to know the MC, and for the reader to get to know him, and it’s used with humor and depth then the reader will follow along, but at some point the sidekick will need to find one nickname and stick to it (Sooner rather than Later, because various nicknames could be irritating to both the reader and the MC).

    • Thanks for the comment and the feedback. I think the sidekick will learn quickly that the MC really doesn’t like nicknames and will stick to either one or none. There will be a rather humorous scene that brings this about. And maybe one other slip up later.

  4. I like what it says about a strong, serious character when he gently refuses to allow others to shorten his name, trying to get too familiar, move in on his space. When others address him as Rick, I’d like to hear him say “It’s Richard.” This shows his desire to keep some distance, if that is your creative intent for the character.On a personal note, I’ve always been Pat to friends and family, Patrick for only about fifteen years when people on the earlier cellphones kept thinking I’d answered with “This is Todd.”

    • It does have a lot to do with the main character establishing his boundaries. I’ll keep that in mind. I will call you Patrick…just because I like it 🙂 especially if it is the name you write under.

  5. I pretty much agree with Kingmidget and Charles — in the narrative, the character needs to be referred to consistently by the same name or else it gets really confusing. As for in dialogue, other characters can definitely use nicknames, but those should stay consistent too. For example, in LOTR, the hobbits call Gandalf by that name, the elves usually call him Mithrandir, Wormtongue calls him Gandalf Stormcrow (I think — just doing this based off memory!), etc. So nicknames are cool as long as they stay consistent 🙂 I myself love nicknames. I have recently given one of my characters the nickname “Big Blue”, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Have fun nicknaming!

    • It is starting to gel with me how I want the main character to set boundaries with his sidekick regarding the use of nicknames. It might become a point of contention between them, but that will work well for the story.

  6. Personally, I hate nicknames. I purposely looked for a name for my daughter that could not (or so I thought) be shortened. And I prefer Pamela – in fact, the people that call me Pam are either my high school friends or my online friends. Professionally I am strictly Pamela. I realize that nicknames will always exist though. Just be consistent. Different people will call someone different things in real life so that shouldn’t be any different in a book. Richard can also be Dick (in fact that is the first nickname I came up with for Richard since we called my uncle Dick). That might be an interesting twist if your character is a PI or a detective. So many ways you could take this. Just be consistent so I don’t get confused when I read it. I hate names I can’t pronounce easily or when there are two characters in a book who have very similar names because that confuses me sometimes too. Granted, I’m not a writer – but I AM a reader.

    • I fully appreciate the reader’s POV. I like Rich and Dick in the context of how I intended to use these for Richard to set boundaries with his sidekick. I think I can make this work Thanks.

  7. Dickens said that the decision about the name was crucial for him. Once he had the name he had the whole character conceived – or vice versa. I don’t think it’s so important and the issue of nicknames less so. It adds a nice touch if certain of the characters use the nickname and others don’t. As long as it’s spoken naturally.

      • Right. What’s annoying to me is the gratuitous use of nicknames in everyday speech. Like Mc D’s, veggies, then all the acronyms.(which an annoying character will use) Not to mention all the guys from the Southern US who use initials like JD and TJ.for real names.

  8. I would echo what others have said about consistency. What is important to me as a reader is that I know that “Rick” is the guy who is trying to solve the crime, if someone suddenly starts talking about “Rich” or “Rickie”, I’m going to wonder who the heck this new character is. It can be more realistic to have some characters refer to others by a particular nickname (my mother still calls me “Mike” occasionally, which I hate) but in terms of readability I would go for one character=one name.

    Now, my main character is called James, but there are a couple of times when people call him “Adam”, which is the name he was born with. I do that deliberately as a plot device, since it’s important to the story that he made a new identity for himself, and why he did it. However, “James” is always “James”, never Jim or Jimmy.

    • Thank you for your comments. I could definitely see the use of a different name as a plot device when there is a new identity and the reader should see it as such. I have a feeling a few of Richard Robertson’s closer friends are going to are going to greet him as Rick in a friendly way, but for the most part, he is Richard in the narrative and Richard to himself. His sidekick though, is problematic, and has a tendency to give him other nicknames just to be annoying. It won’t happen often…once or twice (so it doesn’t become annoying to the reader), and never in the narration. this feedback has all been awesome. I love it when we can get together and brainstorm. Charles gave me a whole new name that I had not thought of that really is going to be valuable in one particular scene.

      • A habit of assigning nicknames to other characters can be an interesting trait for a sidekick. With the right touch it doesn’t have to be annoying. Robert McCammon used that trait in a way that turned out to be really creepy in Boy’s Life.

        • His sidekick is a transexual and I am thinking the she can use the nicknames in a way that is annoying to the detective and a little affectionate at the same time. Or sort of deliberately annoying to him. I am liking the Richard Robertson name the more I think about it. Dick and Rich could both be used by the sidekick. Now I have to get the sidekick’s name settled. I am thinking Brandy, (Formerly Bradley), because it was supposed to be the name of one of my sister’s, as my dad loved it when the song came out. Problem is, I don’t want it to look like I stole the idea from John Berendt with his Chablis in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

          • Never read Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, but I have known a number of transsexuals, and they tend to pick names that are stereotypically indicative of their new gender– male to females usually choose very “girly” names. So Brandy (or even Brandi with an “i”) is good. (Not that I want to be stereotyping myself, this is just my experience.)

            Just curious, was Bradley a cop? I have also noticed that a lot of male-to-females had very “macho” jobs when they were male–one that I used to date had been an Army Ranger prior to reassignment.

            • Funny you say that. Bradley was an ex MP in the Army that became a cop, but now she is a stripper at the Parliament House (A local gay club with a hotel that has been around here for decades and does both stripper shows and theatrical productions. The gays, the transsexuals, the transvestites, as well as straight people, hang out there for the shows and to pick up.).

              • You can have some fun with that, because even though she will have lost a lot of muscle mass, she’d still have the memory of how to do submission or choke holds, which could definitely come in handy.

                I’m full of questions now–I want to know how the characters are connected, and how the mystery relates to the community. A detective investigating a crime at a drag show venue would have a real uphill battle just getting people to talk to him at all–there is a strong anti-cop bias at most of those kinds of venues.

                So can I sign up for beta reader now, and avoid the rush?

                • Sure you can. I would greatly appreciate the offer. The detective, who is a private investigator, actually meets Brandi (I like the i) at a McDonald’s on OBT (Orange Blossom Trail, [Hwy 441] otherwise known simply as The Trail, because it is where the hookers walk the street. The Parliament House in on N. OBT and this McDonald’s is on S. OBT. Richard sees Brandi take down a brute of a guy single handedly. She’s pretty, shaves her legs, has no Adam’s apple, has an ample tush for a guy, (like my husband…he actually has a butt), but she is tough and is skilled in martial arts. the martial arts come in handy in many ways in many scenes.

                • There is a lot of hanky panky going on in this book as the detective lives at Leisure Lagoon, a nudist resort, and there are a couple of swinger clubs there. The husband of our late murder victim frequented there both before and after their marriage. Richard has been mostly involved in getting intel for the “Winter Park Wives Club” a group of high society bitches in the posh area of town. he has also been involved in cracking money laundering cases and other such small time stuff….until this cold case murder ends up in his lap. The murder victim’s husband wants the case solved, as he wants to run for public office. He is an Orange County Administrator in Growth and Development, a Civil Engineer, and has a law degree. The case went cold after Hurricane Charley in 2004. ( Not quite sure on the date, It was an Independance Day murder…maybe 2005 after Katrina.) The husband also has a gay lover now, who is his Personal Assistant.

                  • Interesting. Yeah, getting any information out of anybody is going to be tough–I assume that’s how Brandi gets involved, Richard needs someone who knows the scene to help sort out this mess.

                    • I have some experience in the area as I dated a couple of swingers (and participated in that lifestyle) in my 12 single years and had a long term relationship with a bi guy. We used to go to a place called Ranch 4Play, that a lot of people from my cousin’s nudist resort frequented, so I am not coming into this blind. It isn’t mainstream crime novel, but it is interesting.

                    • It does sound interesting, and, like i say, I think that environment will add some twists to the investigation. I’m reminded of Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”, everyone has something to hide, and figuring out which one is hiding the particular secret the detective needs should be fun.

                      I once started writing a mystery set in the BDSM community, but I realized that it was going to take more plotting and outlining than I want to do. Much of the dynamics of the Outsider community in my books is taken from the kind of dynamics I have seen in BDSM, poly, and swinger’s groups.

                    • I still haven’t started your series yet, but I am eager and it will be soon. I met my husband through a dating service. Our first date was at a coffee shop where we talked for four hours. He liked me because of my snakeskin “Come fuck me shoes” and I liked him because he loved to talk, and he really listened. He told me all of his S&M secrets and I told him all of my nudist club/swinger secrets on that first date. It was a match made in heaven. He is a real renaissance man, having lived all over the world, and I was just a country girl from GA. We are in a committed closed relationship, but when we do go out, we go together. We have enough similarities to make it interesting and enough differences to keep it fascinating. It is turning out to be quite a fun book to write.

                    • I bet. And I like the idea of a mystery novel that happens to include lifestyle people, instead of a Lifestyle Book, if you know what I mean. Too often, in my opinion, fiction that portrays any sort of sexually adventurous lifestyle ends up being polemic, either for or against.

                    • I did pretty good in Red Clay and Roses at splitting right down the middle and telling it like it was without polarizing one side or the other. I am hoping I can carry that same effect in this book.

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