22

A character's name starts with a hard G, as in Gary.

Another character (dismissively) calls him by his first initial "G", said with a soft G, as in gee whiz.

I've been using the letter G, but it's giving me the willies in formatted text. I don't know that it's wrong, but it pings wrong to my eye. Is it better to spell it out, like a nickname?

How do I write it?

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    The only examples I can think of are M and Q from James Bond…, but it's not really their names, more like spycodes. – wetcircuit Jul 25 at 19:09
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    The Magicians does exactly this: the protagonist is Quentin, and people call him Q. I guess the one difference is that G is an easier letter to spell out than Q (the formal spelling of Q is "cue", which probably wouldn't read correctly...) – Micah Jul 26 at 5:40
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    I am not sure there is a wrong way to do it. However you should be consistent throughout your story with the way you write it. – Totumus Maximus Jul 26 at 7:32
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    For reference, in NCIS:LA, we only learn Callens first name in season 7. He is always referred to as "G." or "G. Callen" (as can be seen e.g. on his navy pack). Granted, its a TV show and his written name doesn't come up that often. – Polygnome Jul 26 at 12:09
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    @frikinside She-Threepio? Did Chewy rebuild him incorrectly? – LarsTech Jul 26 at 17:45

12 Answers 12

31

I don't think you need to expand it, but you can. Anyone who goes by two initials is usually called "P.J." or "PJ" in writing. Anecdotally, I knew a guy who went by G (for Gerard), and written down it was always G. That said, we weren't in the habit of transcribing our conversations.

If you don't want it to be just the letter G, I'd recommend writing it out as Gee, which is the (pretty) standard formal spelling of the name of the letter G. For more information on the names of letters in English, see:

Is there a formal spelling for the English letter names?

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    ‘Gee’ could be pronounced with a hard ‘g’ too… (Maybe that makes more sense in places such as the US where the interjection ‘gee’ is more commonly used?) I'd consider using ‘G.’ with the full stop making clear that it's an abbreviation. – gidds Jul 26 at 10:41
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    @gidds I'd write that as "ghee", if I wanted a hard 'g'. – Erbureth says Reinstate Monica Jul 26 at 12:13
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    @Erbureth That would clarify it. – upsidedowncreature Jul 26 at 12:56
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    I would find 'Gee' more irritating. I would read it as in 'Gee, I wish beer was free'. – Strawberry Jul 26 at 13:36
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    @upsidedowncreature I see what you did there... but 'er.. I'd probably go with G.. – TripeHound Jul 26 at 14:40
23

I'd leave it G. The letter G is pronounced the way you want it to be pronounced, so it's clear. If your test readers find it confusing (which I doubt they will), you could use some exposition the first time the character does that.

"Yeah, right, G," said Thomas, reducing Gary's name to a single letter, and not even the hard "G" of "Gary", but the weak, limp "G" of "gelatin" or "germ," as if Gary weren't worth the effort of the hard "G".

Okay, so that's rather overwritten, but you get the idea. :-)

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    The name of the letter G /dʒiː/ is quite different from the sound of G in Gary /ɡ/. I don't think English speakers can pronounce /ɡ/ without a vowel, the way it's possible to do with /k/. And anyway, a person called K would be pronounced /kʰeɪ/, not just /k/. – CJ Dennis Jul 27 at 2:54
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    @CJDennis - That's basically my point, "G" is pronounced as the OP wants it to be pronounced ("Gee") by default. You'd have to write "Guh" or "Gih" or "Go," etc., to get them to hear it another way in their heads. – T.J. Crowder Jul 27 at 10:15
  • It's funny, I though the OP was concerned about how to spell "G", not about how it sounds which most answerers are addressing. The exposition explaining that "G" is pronounced exactly as the reader expects seems unnecessary. – CJ Dennis Jul 27 at 11:07
  • @CJDennis - We're just reading the question differently I guess. – T.J. Crowder Jul 27 at 11:16
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    @CJDennis I read it as OP is wondering how to spell/write the name so it is pronounced (internally by the reader) the way they intend. – TripeHound Jul 27 at 14:30
15

The reader only needs to be told how "G" sounds once. You can put the explanation in-story, e.g. the character says or thinks 'I hate it when Bob calls me G, I can just hear him thinking "Gee whiz" whenever he does it' (this example is imperfect, you want to make the explanation completely unambiguous, but I think you get my point here). From then on, you can simply write G and everything is clear.

8

Depending on the style you're aiming for, just use the single letter.

For example, in Franz Kafka's novel The Trial (Der Prozess), the protagonist's name is Josef K. Throughout the novel, he is simply refereed to as K. - not just by the narrator, but also by other characters, who however mostly use the formal Mr. K. This is not unusual for Kafka - if I'm not mistaken, he does that in a few novels - but it should be noted that this gives a specific feel to the story and the relationship between reader and protagonist, which is perhaps not what you want.

Reading The Trial feels a bit like reading a report already, but the fact that character is just K. makes him more distant to the reader and emphasizes the report-like feeling. I don't want to spoil the end, but as is typical in Kafka's works (or at least the books I read), it doesn't end well for K. And although it's sad how it ends, I didn't really feel sad for the protagonist; his actual name isn't even known at the end.

Of course, this is subjective. Different readers get different things from stories and it's been ten years since I read it the last time. Because of that I recommend taking a look at The Trial.

Regarding sound and pronunciation

There is only so much you can do to give the reader the right idea how it is pronounced. In your example it is probably not even necessary since in English G is already pronounced exactly how you want it. However, if you want to be absolutely sure that the readers get how it is pronounced, because it is important to the story or it could get lost in translation*, you should simply mention it. Depending on the point of view and your style this could be done by the narrator

G didn't mind getting called just by his first initial, but he hated it when people mispronounced it just to mock him. Not a single pun he didn't already hear, and the get worse with time. Still G didn't grew tired of correcting people that it's pronounced just like the english letter, Gee.

or it could happen naturally in dialog i.e a character making a dismissive comment about G or a pun on G that only works if the pronunciation is wrong ( or right). Let the character correct them so the reader will know how it is pronounced. From that point on you can keep G in text, and the reader will still know its pronounced like the standard english letter G.

However this could be strange to read because it seems unnecessary to mention how G is pronounced. If it is not actually important to the story (because it has to rhyme or something) I would leave it to the reader.

*However if your story is not actually written in English then this might be of course important because even the same Latin letters are not pronounced the same in different languages. Take Kafkas K, for example. In German it would be pronounced Ka (with an A like in car) whereas in English it would be pronounced Kay (like in okay). I can't remember a single instance where this would make a difference in Kafkas novels but that doesn't necessary mean it's the same in your case.

  • Welcome to writing.se, Takiro! That's a very good example you bring. Would you consider expending on why you believe "this gives a specific feel to the story and the relationship between reader and protagonist, which is probably not what OP wants"? And when you have time, take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're always useful. :) – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 26 at 13:35
  • @Galastel I added an additional paragraph about the feeling and why you can get that feelng. However I also mentioned that it is subjective of course. – Takiro Jul 26 at 14:12
7

It isn't unheard of to use single character names. Kafka's The Castle features a character named K. There is even a page on tvtropes describing single character names, which indicates the popularity of doing so: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OneLetterName .

'G' specifically is very common within certain subcultures, and is usually considered a sign of respect (short for 'Gangsta'). Is it your intention to subvert that cultural norm by turning 'G' into a diss (dismissal)?

  • Welcome to Writing.SE, Macpeters. Please note Kafka's work has already been mentioned in another answer. But your link to tvtropes is a good one. Please take a look at pur tour and help center pages, they're useful. Looking forwards to seeing more of you here! – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 26 at 13:43
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    @Galastel, Macpeters' answer was actually the first to mention Kafka, so your comment seems unwarranted. – prl Jul 26 at 19:54
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    I apologise. It showed up in my review queue half an hour after Takiro's, I assumed they were in order. Turns out they were posted simultaneously. My bad. Thanks for drawing my attention to this. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 26 at 20:19
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    @Galastel You forgot to mention that all links to TVTropes should warn the reader before clicking it that it could consume the rest of their time! – CJ Dennis Jul 27 at 3:05
6

You'd write it by spelling out the letter. In this case, that might be "Yo, Gee, you idiot!" or something similar. This is, not surprisingly, the same way you'd write someone reading a single letter or reading something like a serial code character by character (assuming the character doing so isn't trained to use a phonetic alphabet).

5

If you just write the letter G, most English-speaking people will pronounce it with a soft sound. I've never heard someone read the letter G as "guh" or whatever.

That said, does it matter? If a reader pronounced it in his head as "guh", would that hurt the story? If not, then I'd say just don't worry about it. If it matters, then make it explicit the first time you use it. Either just say, "He pronounced it with a soft G, like in 'gee whiz'." Or have a character say something about it.

3

I would write it G, but you could write it Gi or Gee, if you like either of those better. This may be a "matter of opinion" question.

In comments, there is a complaint "Gi" could be pronounced with a hard G, like "go" with a long "ee" instead of an "oh".

I agree, but the author can explain, the first time "Gi" is used, that it is pronounced like "Gee". (like "Joe" with "ee" instead of "oh").

The reason to use "Gi" and explain it, is to avoid confusion with the exclamation "Gee!" "Gi" IMO looks more like a name, and would be distinguished that way.

As for "Gigi" as a name, I have only heard it pronounced "Gee Gee".

  • Gi would be a misleading spelling in English. The i vowel would probably be pronounced like the English words "I" or "eye". "Gi" would indicate the correct sound in some European languages like French and Italian, though (as in the name "Gigi"). – alephzero Jul 26 at 10:27
  • @alephzero And still, any English speakers would instantly pronounce "Gigi" correctly, and not "Geye-geye", or wouldn't they? – I'm with Monica Jul 26 at 12:14
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    @AlexanderKosubek I'm with Separatrix. I'm a native speaker, and I've heard at least three distinct pronunciations for "Gigi"... – Chris Sunami Jul 26 at 13:17
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    Although the name “Gigi” is jee-jee (from Italian), “gi” is a karate smock, pronounced ghee (from Japanese). – WGroleau Jul 26 at 14:05
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    The conventional rule in English is that "g" has a soft sound when followed by "i" or "e", otherwise a hard sound. So in "giraffe" and "gentle" it is soft; in "gate" and "gorilla" and "guts" and "glory" it is hard. I'm sure there are exceptions. – Jay Jul 27 at 13:38
0

A friend of mine is actually called Ge, but internationally she is known as 'G'. If you are not happy with just a single letter to indicate this character, you can go for a two letter 'name' that expresses the pronunciation you are happy with.

In case of my friend, it is the first syllable of her official first name, but around here (the Netherlands) it is not uncommon for a nick name to be the initial and a second letter which is not in the actual name but does support the pronunciation of the initial.

0

You could try changing the font and see how that feels, like as a cursive G, or try using bold, italic or other denotation. If one doesn't feel good about something that they write, that's a good indicator that it shouldn't be there, hence spelling it out would also be tabled if one isn't confident about it.

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! That's not what the question actually means by "how do I write it" - OP is asking whether to write it how it's spelt ("G") or how it's pronounced ("Gee"). – F1Krazy Jul 28 at 6:34
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    The OP gives spelling it out as example solution, but that's just an example, "giving me the willies" and "it pings wrong to my eye" clearly means the OP has isn't comfortable with their attempt so far and have not considered options they haven't thought of yet (obviously), and is looking for new ideas. My answer gives a possible solution to the sentiments, not support for the OP's possible solution, which they already showed to lack confidence in (by asking if it's a good idea) – user47014 Jul 28 at 15:01
  • Agreed -- I often write things in Tahoma at work because we're supposed to always use Arial, but the ambiguity of I/l/1 (eye, ell, one) in Arial also twigs me, even if context makes it perfectly clear. I only switch away from Tahoma when at the very end when I have to meet the department standards. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Jul 29 at 14:58
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Does the character call him "G" or "Mr. G?"

I'm thinking of in Buffy the Vampire Slayer how Faith refers to everyone, so she calls Buffy "B".

And The Fonz in Happy Days calls everyone "Mrs. C." or whatever - it's like "as formal as he can do."

And do people use first-initials as nicknames if they don't rhyme with Bee? (I mean, 007 has Q and M, but they're designations more than nicknames: M for MI-5, Q for Quartermaster)

Also, some things due suit the eye more than the ear: Example = Wonder Woman. It makes sense on the comic page for people to call her "WW," but to say that aloud in a movie is just wrong - it's 6 syllables instead of 4, while the print version is 2 characters instead of 12.

So for your writing, do you "hear" the character called G by the other character? Do other names feel like they "sound right?" Then go with that.

But some writers are more visual or focused on the etymology in some word/name choices: the name Hermione Granger - many readers didn't know how it was pronounced (hence the scene in Goblet of Fire), but the meaning of it, Earthly Worker of the Granary (aka very mundane/muggleborn) might have overcome the "ear".

0

To be completely honest, I would also stick with the single letter. However, any awkwardness or confusion could be avoided by simply putting an introductory passage for this. "He spoke his name with just one syllable, 'G'. It was hard to get used to just speaking one letter, but it was definitely fitting."

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