Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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I still don’t like being called by my first name by total strangers

Here is a post at Book View Cafe about names versus titles in historical novels:

A friend mentioned the other day that she’d run into a novel set in the mid-19th century in which everyone addressed each other by their first names. All the time. Under every circumstance. It was driving her nuts; her interior historian kept being thrown out of the story.

No kidding. That’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder: Does the author actually read historical novels? Did she (or he) never actually read anything by Jane Austen? How could anybody think this first-name-only thing would work in that setting?

In this context, I will add: I routinely click to close advertisements on Twitter, and when they ask to check the reason why, I always select “Tweet is not relevant.” Because it never is relevant. I’m not interested in buying a new car this year or whatever. But the one time I choose “Tweet is offensive,” it was because the tweet addressed me by my first name. Probably someone somewhere goes through those tweet-dismissals and probably that person wondered what could possibly have been offensive about that tweet. Well, in the highly unlikely chance they happen across this blog post, now they know.

If I *were* buying a new car this year, I wouldn’t like it when the salesperson addressed me by my first name, either. Ugh. I just hate that kind of fake familiarity, most particularly in a salesmanship kind of context.

Anyway, back to historical novels. I can hardly think of anything else more obtrusively, obviously wrong than that particular mistake. One plus to writing secondary world fantasy: you can come up with whatever name and title conventions you want. But if you’re going to write a historical, yeah, you don’t get to choose.

At least not without turning off plenty of readers.

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2 Comments I still don’t like being called by my first name by total strangers

  1. Evelyn Hill

    I made this mistake with the first historical novel I wrote. (Hangs head) Luckily, a beta reader caught it. In my head, I was on a first-name basis with these characters, so it felt natural to refer to them that way.
    Personally, I hate it even more when a stranger calls me by my first name but refuses to give me their name.
    Either that, or the other day I got a call from someone whose parents really did give her an unusual name:
    Woman: “Hi Evelyn!”
    Me: “Hi back. Who is this?”
    Woman: “This is the American Red Cross.”

  2. Rachel

    Whoops! Glad your beta reader asked if you were sure you wanted to do that. How fascinating that you kind of felt you were personally on a first-name basis with all your characters; I never thought of that kind of effect leading writers toward first names.

    And yes, I totally hate that kind of fake-friendly solicitation phone call! Yet I’m too polite to suggest the person re-think their first-name strategy. I should get over that.

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