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In a novel, what is the proper way in US English to refer to a group by the character's self-styled label?

For example: In a novel, assume a group of software coders are working on an extremely challenging problem. While doing so, they start referring to themselves as the "Hacker_Masters."

In the text of the novel, would it be proper in the mind of an editor to refer to their label as:

  • Hacker_Masters
  • Hacker_Masters
  • "Hacker_Masters"
  • "Hacker_Masters"
  • hacker_masters
  • or something else?
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Since you can't do the underscore ("_") in dialogue (if your text has it?), if one of them said, "We're the Hacker Masters," I'd print it just like that...

It's a name so capital H and M.

On the other hand, on a web page or in any other kind of text where they write it, it would be Hacker_Masters, hacker_masters, haxr_mstrs, hackkermstors... or anything else... depending on who's writing and how well they spell... (or choose to spell...)

I think when the narrator talks about them, they would also be Hacker Masters. Or probably the Hacker Masters. (Same goes for above, they'd sign their ransomware notes "the Hacker Masters"—unless bad English is a thing you want to show them having).

If you add quotes, when not doing dialog, it implies they're not that good at hacking... they're the "hacker masters" or the hacker "masters" or the "hacker" masters...

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  1. Hacker_Masters
  2. Hacker_Masters
  3. "Hacker_Masters"
  4. "Hacker_Masters"
  5. hacker_masters

We can start with eliminating option 5. Their group name would be a proper noun so it would have to be capitalized¹.

  1. Hacker_Masters
  2. Hacker_Masters
  3. "Hacker_Masters"
  4. "Hacker_Masters"
  5. hacker_masters

I would then eliminate options 3 and 4. When you use a name of a person or group, you don't need to put them in quotes². It's the same thing for italics² so option 2 is out.

  1. Hacker_Masters
  2. Hacker_Masters
  3. "Hacker_Masters"
  4. "Hacker_Masters"
  5. hacker_masters

This leaves us with option 1 - the classic.

Hacker_Masters

When using option 1, you may want

to consider taking to first identify the group by its proper name (Hacker_Masters) and then note in parentheses that at all times a more convenient name will be substituted for the writer's sake. I.E. "The Hacker_Masters (henceforth known as Hacker Masters) is an organization that..."

-credit to hszmv

This would mean in dialogue Hacker_Masters could be called Hacker Masters, or HM for short, and so on depending on your style.

This way you don't have to write out Hacker_Masters with the underscore each time.

Does this solve your problem?


¹ Capitalization of Proper and Common Nouns

² Marking Text—Choosing Between Italics and Quotation Marks

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  • I would say 5 could be excused if there was an organization with a name like "people against grammatically proper capitlization" which would make a point that that p.a.g.p.c. members would not want those letters capitalized. Stylization is a personal matter and while it is polite for others to respect it in formal capacity, there is no writing rule that says you must not call your example org "Hacker Masters" or "Hacker Underscore Masters" or "quote unquote Hacker Masters" depending on the character using the term. – hszmv Feb 5 at 13:52
  • It's also common in legal writing to first identify the group by it's proper name (Hacker_Masters) and then note in parenteses that at all times a more convient name will be substituted for the writer's sake. I.E. "The Hacker_Masters (hence forth known as Hacker Masters) is an organization that..." This is especially common with organizations that use acronyms (i.e. The People for the Eating of Tasty Animals (henceforth refered to as PETA)...") as well as people with official titles (President John Doe (hence forth refered to as President Doe)..."). – hszmv Feb 5 at 13:57
  • @hszmv Yes, but the OP does not mention anything about the Hacker_Masters not wanting grammatically proper capitalization. I think that we can assume to just treat their name normally. – Nai45 Feb 5 at 15:06
  • @hszmv I will edit in something similar to your second point though. – Nai45 Feb 5 at 15:07
  • @hszmv Do my edits help? – Nai45 Feb 5 at 21:01

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