by Iola Goulton
A nickname, epithet, sobriquet, or soubriquet is a descriptive word or phrase used instead of or as part of a person’s name. We capitalize people’s names, so it makes sense that nicknames are also capitalized.
However, terms of affection or endearment are not capitalized. The challenge is therefore to decide whether the term you’re using is a nickname or a term of affection.
In general, a word is considered a nickname if it refers to one specific person. Famous examples include Twiggy, Babe Ruth, Capability Brown, and the Iron Lady. You may or may not know the given name of these people, but you know who they are and why they are famous. These terms are therefore nicknames or sobriquets, as they refer to one specific person. However, someone might be described as looking like Twiggy, or acting like the Iron Lady.
In contrast, terms of endearment or affection such as “dear” or “son” are not unique. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style considers such names to be terms of affection:
“… unless they are used so often as to have the force of a nickname.”
So when might a term of endearment become a nickname? For example:
- If you’re writing biblical fiction that features God, Jesus, and their relationship, then it would be appropriate for God to call Jesus “Son” rather than “son.”
- If you’re writing a speculative fiction story set in a society with only one male, then his mother might call him “Son” as he would be unique in that setting.
- If your character was named Sonny, then “Son” would be capitalized because it is a shortened form of his proper name.
- If you were writing an allegorical novel, then you may capitalize “Son” when referring to the Jesus figure, because we usually capitalize terms referring to God and Jesus. (Editor’s Note: The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style suggests always capitalizing “Son” when referring to Jesus.)
In that final example, capitalizing “Son” will be a subtle hint to readers that this character is the Jesus figure … which is why it’s important not to capitalize “son” if it’s merely being used as a term of endearment. If you do, the reader might read more into the capitalization than intended.
Finally, some nicknames are portmanteau terms, where parts of two names are combined into a single nickname that refers to a specific couple. Examples include Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez).
What examples of nicknames have you found in the books you’ve read or edited?
Iola Goulton of Christian Editing Services is a New Zealand-based freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction. Iola holds a degree in marketing and has been editing since 2012. She is a member of The Christian PEN, Omega Writers, and Romance Writers of New Zealand, and manages the Beyond the Borders zone of American Christian Fiction Writers. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading, writing her next book review, or avoiding working on her first novel. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand with her husband, son, and cat. Website: www.christianediting.co.nz or follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter.