Thursday, September 15, 2011

Editing Tip: Spelling Names

I'm currently working on proofreading a book that has liberally used quotes—something I personally love because I love quotes in general. One quote specifically stood out to me:
You should be the change you want to see in the world.
The author credited it to a Mohandas Gandhi and it struck me odd. I've always heard of this as being credited to Mahatma Gandhi. A little research revealed that Mohandas and Mahatma are one and the same, so I left it alone. It brought up a good point, however:

When you are talking about a person, place, or thing that is known by multiple names, pick one and stick to it.

Consistency translates into smooth flow and readability for readers, especially if your writing includes multiple different names and places (think One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez); the fewer the reader needs to remember, the better.

If you are making up names (your piece is fiction), be sure to keep track of how you spell things and to go back and verify that spelling is the same in all places.

Exceptions to the Rule
Rules aren't really rules if they don't have exceptions, right? Exceptions to this rule would include the following:

  • If the person, place, or thing you are writing about has a really long name, it's ok to spell out the full name at the first instance—or the first instance in a while—and use a shortened version more frequently. Try to stick to just two versions, total (one full and one shortened).
  • If different characters in your writing refer to the item differently, it's ok to use the appropriate multiple names (for example, a teacher with kids would be known as mom by her kids, Mrs. Bentley by her students, or Joyce by her spouse and colleagues).

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