This essay concerns play-by-post, online role-playing games, such as Absit Omen. Writers collaborate on the internet via bulletin board software like Simple Machines Forum by creating characters and interacting with the characters of others. These games cater to all different types of people all over the world and in many languages. I write in a Harry Potter fandom, so the characters and scenarios I mention relate to that.
We are called different things to different people. I’m Ms. Carney when I teach at school, I’m Sarah to my friends and family and I’m Sarah Carney when I introduce myself. When I think of myself, in my own internal dialog, I’m just Sarah. The same goes with other people in our lives. Your bosses and teachers in school were probably all Mr’s and Ms’s. Celebrities and politicians are often always spoken about by their full names. We give our friends nicknames. But whatever our naming convention, it always reflects the role that person plays in our lives.
This goes with role-playing as well.
In direct dialog!
When our characters are actually speaking, they will use names of the people in their life. Some students might irreverently, or affectionately call their professors by just their surname when the professor is not present. Harry was often corrected by Dumbledore to call Snape ‘Professor Snape’. In person, students will often call their professors by their title or title and surname.
Some professors and bosses are the types to speak to their students and employees by their first name, in a friendly way. Others will use Mr and Miss/Ms. Others might just bark out the surname. My version of Xiomara Hooch uses Mrs and Misses for her students, and less often just Matthews, Wintergreen or Knight. However when Knox Greyfriar was teaching, he often used students’ first names only, unless the situation begged greater formality.
What about parents to children? I imagine that Neely Woolfolk might get her older relatives calling her Cornelia, whether she likes it or not.
Consider who your character is talking about and who they are speaking to – what name would they use? What would be the expectations between two characters on a hierarchy? We both consciously and unconsciously use naming to describe and react to power relationships. To flout them (by calling a parent or professor by their first name) is going to cause some level of conflict – it’s going to be unexpected. To adhere to these rules, however, reinforces the character relationships and reputations we’d planned for them.
Whichever you choose, do so with deliberation and purpose.
When we write the narration of posts, many role-players take on the tone or insight of the character they’re writing for. Others might step away a little further from the character to narrate in a more distant tone. Both ways are acceptable and make for great narration. However, they might differently influence how you name other characters.
For example, Figaro Sellaphix (Hufflepuff student of mine) would probably always think about Fauna and Devlin and Sasha by their first names. So that’s how I might refer to them in the narration. An exception to this is that more distant style I like to use sometimes. On first reference or to set a different rhythm, I might use their full names or another epithet like ‘older Hufflepuff’ or ‘girlfriend-stealing jerkbutt’. Fully naming a character on first or second reference is more of a nod to the reader, making sure they’re caught up, and that my references weren’t too inside. Also, using epithets to name characters just reveals more about how the character is related to or responds to the named character.
For Figaro, the names of his professors are likely all their title plus their surname, or just their surname. He would never think of Headmistress Snark as Analiza, or even know what Professor Ramsay’s first name was. Professor identities for students are almost always formal. Remember how easy it is/was to think of our teachers as just teachers and that imagining them in the casual daily life was tricky. So for Figaro, I usually always refer to professors in narration in the way Fig thinks of them: Professor Bombay. Professor Greyfriar. I have to admit that I’ve occasionally been really thrown off when I’ve seen student character’s narrate their posts with ‘Knox’ this and ‘Knox’ that. It reminds me of a classroom of sophomores talking about how Linda gave them a bad grade but was looking forward to Gary’s test later on! Even my favorite high school teachers, the ones I was most close to, where not Marianne and Trish. They were more often affectionate nicknames created from their surname. Drim and Swobes as the case may be. (Even now, as an adult who still has a relationship with these teachers – their first names are absent entirely from my internal narration of my life.)
The Knox example represents to me a sort of affectionate shorthand we all have for each others’ characters. We writers are almost parents in a way, watching our characters come and go and live their lives. Even scary characters like Cinaed Tawse and Theodora Kingstreet are just ‘Cin’ and ‘Theo’ or ‘TK’ – names hardly appropriate for most of their fellow characters to use. It all comes down to being cognizant and making deliberate choices.
Professors, on the other hand, have a little more leeway because of individual relationships they’d have with their students and in what environment they’re speaking with them.
Another different situation are those Full Name people in your life. For some reason people like Cinaed Tawse are, for Figaro, and will always be a Full Name type of person. And naturally celebrities like Marcus Annwyl, Tamis Raynor, and Dennis Creevey are all always two name people. I never think of Cate Blanchett as just Cate, or Michael Gambon as just Michael.
And I suppose this is the ultimate moral of the story: Names matter; choose wisely!