Nobody in my story knows the actual name of one of the characters. She calls herself 'tina. She always writes it 'tina and gets irritated if people write it Tina - it's short for something, but nobody knows what. To her, the apostrophe and the lower case "t" are important - she likes the air of mystery that it creates for herself, allowing herself to hide away part of her life.

My question: When I'm talking about her, should I always write her name as 'tina?

I want to, but it's a name, so an inner voice is telling me i should drop the apostrophe and capitalise the T when I'm saying "Tina did this" or "Tina said that". But if I start doing that then how do I decide when it should be 'tina and when it should be Tina. If I'm not careful then her name, an important part of her character, will be relegated to a throw away comment when I first introduce her and will likely make her sound much more pretensious than she actually is.

4 Answers 4


Lots of names are short for longer names. Beth is short for Elizabeth. Nobody writes it 'beth. In English, when shortening a word by lopping off the beginning of the word, the tradition is to treat the shortened word as a full word in its own right, and to capitalize it as such.

That said, lots of people have insisted on defying orthographic conventions in the spelling of their names. Prince even changed his name to . Needless to say, people tend to find that sort of thing quite pretentious. So Tina's name is short for something: why should anyone care? The fact that she angrily shoves that in people's faces whenever they try to spell a normal name with normal rules is pretentious. Especially given that this is a spelling-only issue: orally, 'tina is equivalent to Tina and only people who have reason to write her name will even be aware of the distinction.

You could, of course, use the "correct" capitalization in the text to flag the speaker as one who is sympathetic to 'tina or not, as in the Eddings example in Lauren Ipsum's answer. But I suspect a person who insists on such an unorthodox spelling of her name is going to be unhappy a lot of the time, when she tries to enter her name into a computer, or fill out a government form, or apply for a job, etc.

My advice would be to have an alternate way of indicating that the name contains something else. For example, some people use their middle name, so John Harold Smith becomes J. Harold Smith and everyone refers to them as Harold. But anyone who writes down the full name should include the J in it, even if they don't know what it means, and Harold could routinely sign his emails, letters, etc, as J Harold Smith.

Language is primarily spoken for most people most of the time. And thus the token that identifies you typically is a sound, which then gets transcribed according to the local spelling rules. Violating those rules makes your character stick out a lot, and maybe not in a good way. And doing it so that your character can effectively constantly tell people "I know something you don't" seems incredibly annoying.

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    You've sold me. I saw it initially as a cute little little affectation, but you're right - it's pretentious through and through! Thanks.
    – Ottsel
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 15:15

In David and Leigh Eddings's Malloreon series, one of the characters, a ruler, styles himself ’Zakath, with the apostrophe. The characters under his rule use the apostrophe; those who oppose him don't, if I recall correctly. So those who do and don't use it say as much about the character as the apostrophe does: do you respect (or fear) the person enough to spell his name as he wants?

It's later revealed that the apostrophe is meant to stand for "Kal," which means "King and God" (so the ruler is using an epithet attached to the country's actual god, Kal Torak). When the meaning of the apostrophe is revealed, it's done with great glee at Zakath's pretentiousness, because in this case he is pretentious.

By all means, reference your character as 'tina if it means something to her, and she can absolutely insist on it. You have a reason for it and character development behind it.


For this particullar example, the name is only expression, how to name yourself. If i will call myself LittleOgre, it will be my name or nickname too. So because of it i will use 'tina.

And the second, I will rather use 'tina instead of Tina and 'tina. It can be rather confusing, because when you will tell about here you will use Tina, and when somebody from your other characters will call on her, he/she will call 'tina.

Hope it helps.


I kind of like 'tina. Her name could be Justina. Perhaps someone gave her the nick name, Just Tina.. could be the explanation of 'tina. Going to throw a hail mary here and say maybe the person that gave the nickname has passed... the ' suggests they will always be apart of 'tina.

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