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I write the little girl calls her grandmother Bunica Rose. The father calls her Bunica Rose also. In the narrative, I use the words, Grandmother Rose. Is this appropriate to do?Will my reading get confused with this dialog?

3 Answers 3

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You can do it like that, but if everyone calls her Bunica (which I assume means grandmother), there's no reason why you should be afraid of being consistent and calling her Bunica in the narrative too.

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Readers almost certainly won't get confused, because a person's name is not always the same as what people call that person. If they do get confused, you can fix it easily enough.

For example, most people call me Kate. My children and their spouses call me mum. My grandchildren call me grandmum. Sometimes, my children will use the grandchildren's name for me, because little people can't handle names as flexibly as older ones. "Take it to grandmum" they might say, meaning me, not my mother, who they address as grandmum. So the father might call her Bunica Rose if the grand daughter is around, but not when it's just the two adults together.

If your narration calls her Bunica Rose, which I gather from the title is a grandmother word from a country other than the one you're writing in or about, then that narration will be more tightly bound to that identity - being a grandmother, being from somewhere else, being the person she is in her family. If the narration uses Grandmother Rose, then it's a little more detached. It might not be objective - the narrator might not know all her rich cultural history or all the significance of some of the things she does and says and might "learn" them over the course of the story. If the narration uses Rose, perhaps we will be shown (in scenes without the family or in flashbacks) some aspects of her life that have nothing to do with being a grandmother at all. Or perhaps some other name, Mrs Whoever, which would communicate still more detachment. (It would be really weird for such a narration to tell me her thoughts, for example.)

If you think that readers will be confused by a character being called several different names, it's easy enough to provide clarification. A simple "trick" is to have an adult correct a child. A two year old I know sometimes calls her parents by their first names because other people are doing so. Someone tells her "you call him Daddy," and it's sorted out. Or perhaps one of the children could come home from school and ask "why don't I have a grandmother? The other children all have them" and a parent could explain "Bunica Rose is your grandmother. Bunica is our word from home." This could hook into all kinds of threads about why the family doesn't live where they used to, and so on.

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I assume that you are writing in English and that the characters in your story speak Romanian.

Conventionally, if you want your characters to use a non-English term, you would explain it to your readers somehow. Here are some options:

  1. Translate it in an unobtrusive manner, e.g.:

"Bunica!"
Rose Grigorescu looked up from her gardening in surprise.
Alexandru jumped the fence and embraced his grandmother. "Bunica Rose," he said to her, "I'm so glad to see you up and about."
Rose had fallen down the front stairs two weeks ago, and the family had bothered her with their worry, and now Alexandru had come in person to make sure that she was well.

  1. Explain it to your readers:

Bunica Rose – grandmother Rose – stood in the garden and wondered where she should plant the cabbage. Ana looked at her and love filled her heart.

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