Call Me By My Nickname

Maybe this is an American thing.

It’s definitely something that I have mostly seen in fiction for younger audiences. It peaks in that Middle Grade niche that is almost YA, but also inhabits a fierce stronghold in JF. First, you have the incredibly common Main Character With Nickname. It’s almost always a shortened form of their name, even if the resultant nickname is horrible. Then, you get this interaction that, if you aren’t lucky, happens repeatedly.

Servant: Lady Andrea, I am to be your personal maid, if it please you.
Andrea: Call me Dray.
Servant: I beg your pardon.
Andrea: Don’t bother with all that “lady” stuff. Everybody calls me Dray. You can too.
Servant: Oh, but… I-I-I couldn’t!
Andrea: *proceeds to insist every single time Servant does not call her Dray*
Servant: *is assumed to have been won over when she finally says “Dray” consistently*

Am I the only person who ever read those scenes and cringed at how rude this chick is? I am a foremost advocate of people being addressed by the name they prefer. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s okay to say, “Screw politeness and social discourse as you understand it! I want you to act in a way that makes ME comfortable!”

Often, like this random example that I just now made up, they are demanding informality from a person who pretty obviously needs that formality. It would be like meeting up with a South Korean CEO and constantly ordering him to speak informally with you. English doesn’t really have much in the way of official formal/informal speech (people honestly seem to think that words longer than “accident” are formal), but still.

The thing that really puzzles me is that based on context and the main character’s personality, the author’s intention seems to be to make the reader see the MC as friendly and egalitarian. Especially since class so often comes into it. And okay, Americans live largely without rigid ideas of class as the average Fantasyland knows them, so one might say they don’t like it. Has anyone ever thought about why?

It almost never goes beyond that, either. Usually the main character will continue to bully the servant around, especially if the servant never gets comfortable with addressing her as an equal. Maybe the servant will become a friend and ally. That’s about the furthest it ever does go. I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of thing be followed by a revolution of the serving classes. Maybe slaves, but that is a different subject as far as writers seem to see it.

Personally, I don’t see any difference between an officious titled person being verbally unkind to servants, and a person who wants to buck the class system just to be addressed in a very specific way. They aren’t being friendly, because friendly people are very considerate–they put the feelings of others first, and that’s why they’re pleasant company. And they aren’t being egalitarian, because they have given an order and expect it to be obeyed.

So what the heck, you guys?

Maybe that isn’t the intention, but it is the action, and it would be the effect if it weren’t for author mandate controlling the servant’s emotions and reactions.

Also, what if the concept of nicknames is completely foreign in this fantasy culture, and the servant thinks the girl is out of her ever-loving mind?


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