In my book, there's two brothers, who are named Nick and Cole. Now, I've always thought that Nick and Cole are cool names, so therefore I named the two brothers "Nick and Cole". But then I found out that both Nick and Cole can be short for Nicholas. Sure, Cole can be short for Coleman or Colton, and Nick can be short for Dominick or Nikon (not that those names are very common), but still, I believe confusion can arise.

Of course I will clarify that the names are short for different names, but would it even be realistic for parents to name their children as such? Is it normal for parents to do this?

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    I've known quite a few Nicks who had the given name of Nicholas. I don't think any Cole I've ever met, though, was using that as a shortened form of Nicholas. I don't think you have anything to worry about.
    – J.R.
    May 10, 2018 at 14:35
  • @J.R. Maybe in the OP's particular example, where the names can't be short for the same given name. But how about, say, Jon and Nate, which can?
    – Mr Lister
    May 10, 2018 at 15:32
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    "Hi, I'm Larry this is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl" - sitcom named Newhart from the 1980's May 10, 2018 at 15:46
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    You could always give give their parents a twisted sense of humor and they're both named Nicholas, and only differentiated by their nicknames. Nicholas, the name so nice, we used it twice!
    – aslum
    May 10, 2018 at 18:25
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    I would have read the names Nick and Cole to be a bit of a joke, as it makes me think of the feminine name Nicole. May 11, 2018 at 1:53

7 Answers 7


It doesn't really matter what parents would do. Parents have been known to give their children all kinds of weird names. What is important for us as writers is whether character names work in our books. And in books:

Your character names work perfectly fine

Unless you aim to confuse your readers, character names in books should be distinct. And Nick and Cole are distinct.

  • both begin with a different letter/sound
  • both look clearly distinct
  • they don't rhyme or alliterate

So I see no problem with these names at all. Readers don't usually think about what other names a character name might be an abbreviation for. They take the names at face value and unless you tell them otherwise they will believe that these are the names in the birth certificate.

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    ...and they're certainly clearer than Sauron and Saruman scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/85089/…
    – rrauenza
    May 10, 2018 at 17:00
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    Prepare for trouble, and make it double... Jessie, James...
    – Andrey
    May 10, 2018 at 20:43
  • Readers don't usually think about what other names a character name might be an abbreviation for. John and Jack might be a counter-example, since Jack is such a common nickname for John.
    – Barmar
    May 10, 2018 at 21:22
  • Second the weird name from parents. My youngests; full name is Ameiia, she answers equally to Millie, Mill, Chicken, Peanut and Pond...I had a friend growing up whose name was Rachel. Her parents and close friends called her Pooch. As long as the character isn't constantly being called something else or new by everyone they meet, it's not going to matter. Even if they do have an affectionate nickname that another character always refers to them as, as long as it's consistant the reader will understand. We're often smarter than given credit for.
    – user18397
    May 11, 2018 at 0:45
  • My cousins are named Christopher and Robin (With another spelling though, but it still alludes to the best human friend of Pooh). People name their kids all kinds of strange things all the time. I'm just disappointed that their sister isn't named Piglet.
    – Alicecold
    May 13, 2018 at 15:27

I don't think this will be a problem for several reasons.

First, when I see Nick and Cole, I don't immediately think Nicholas. I didn't realize they could both be abbreviations for Nicholas until you mentioned.

Second, if you have a character say something like "This is Nikon, but we call him Nick, and this is Colton but we call him Cole" I doubt the reader will be confused.

Third, Nick and Cole can be names and not abbreviations for anything. I know someone named Cole not as an abbreviation, and I believe I have met people who are named Nick.

I don't think this is a problem unless you say "This is Nicholas and we call him Nick. This is also Nicholas, and we call him Cole."

  • 8
    Depending on the story and characters, it might actually be an amusing bit of backstory if the characters' parents named them both "Nicholas" but call them by different nicknames.
    – bto
    May 10, 2018 at 14:31
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    As a footnote, I think, "This is Nicholas and we call him Nick. And this is also Nicholas, but we call him Cole," could work okay if Nick and Cole were two buddies who chummed around in the same circle of friends. I agree with you, though, it would be a terrible idea for siblings.
    – J.R.
    May 10, 2018 at 14:32
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    @J.R. I did something once in a book where one character's last name was another character's first name. It was a horrible mistake on my part. I was never quite sure who I was talking about since I used last names a lot for formality. So even if similar (or same) names "work" as friends, you might not want to do it simply for your own sake. May 10, 2018 at 14:42

I think of the cartoon Ed, Edd, and Eddy with this. They are all named some variation of the name "Ed", but one is Ed, one is Double D, and one is Eddy. It's done deliberately, and can occasionally be called upon to create deliberate confusion.


No-one will be confused by two distinct names that MIGHT have the same root. Some readers may detect this fact, and be a little disappointed if the story and the two characters' personalities don't demonstrate that YOU knew it. It's fun to hide these little 'Easter Eggs' in a story. But it's not a big deal.


Who says Cole has to be an abbreviation of anything? Cole Porter for example?

Not at all confusing.

  • 1
    Cole was apparently Porter's mother's maiden name.
    – Barmar
    May 10, 2018 at 21:21

If you introduce them clearly as two different characters, you probably won't encounter any confusion. However, it may be distracting for some readers, and depending on how they are introduced some name-savvy readers may be waiting for the other shoe to drop (waiting for the reveal that they are actually the same person, or that they were both named after the same Nicholas or similar). If it isn't clear that you are aware of the potential common origin of the names, you will likely also irritate some readers.

This will depend to some extent on your audience. Parents actually do that kind of thing with names all the time, so it wouldn't be unrealistic. However, absent some narrative explanation for the gaffe, I would scoff at your lack of naming knowledge if I ran across such brothers in your novel, just as I (secretly) roll my eyes at parents who name their kids Liz and Beth. I might even take it as a general sign of carelessness on your part. I see Cole recommended as a nickname for Nicholas pretty regularly (see, e.g., Nameberry, The Bump, BabyNameWizard, WhatToExpect, etc.), so it's not an obscure connection.

I once actually stopped reading a "historical" novel which had a Victorian Irish American family with sisters Margaret and Megan (Megan being a Welsh nickname for Margaret that was virtually unknown as a given name in the US until the 1970s), and that error was part of my scathing anti-recommendation of the book. I know other folks who feel the same way about character names, so if you have reason to believe that a significant part of your target audience might be knowledgeable about names (e.g. if you're aiming your book at women who are in a child-naming age range) you might want to reconsider, or give some explanation for the parents' cluelessness.


IN THIS EXAMPLE, I don't see a problem. As others have said, I don't think "Nicholas" when I hear "Cole", and I doubt most people do. And even if they did, "Nick" and "Cole" sound very different and distinct. In real life, people often use nicknames exactly to give distinct sounding names to two people with the same formal name, like you have two friends both name "Frederick" so you call one "Fred" and the other "Baldy".

The real problem is if the names you call characters by sound very similar. Like if you have two characters that you call "Burt" and "Bart" or "Sally" and "Sandy". You might do this deliberately if an important plot point is that people regularly get the two confused, or that at one crucial time someone gets the name confused. You might do this in a comedy to make a running joke about people getting the names confused. But usually, this is a really, really bad idea. It is almost always a Very Bad Thing if a reader gets to, "And suddenly, Bart burst into the room!", or, "The detective said, 'Bart is the murderer!'", and the reader has to stop and think, "Wait, is Bart the brother or the lawyer? Let me flip back and see ..."

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