today’s acafen problems

These may amuse you, because even as I grapple with them, they are amusing me:

1. I realize that Jones is a ridiculously common surname, especially in the UK and especially in Wales. But generally when I’m writing academic articles, I mention the character’s whole name the first time I refer to them, and then refer to them by their last name throughout the rest of the article. Which is all well and good, until you’re writing an article about the Whoniverse that necessarily must mention both Harriet Jones and Ianto Jones and may mention Martha Jones, and I don’t really want to go traipsing about in scholarship being all familiar with these folks and calling them by their given names, but the constant use of their full names is remarkably awkward (although probably what I’m stuck with — I simply cannot refer to even a fictional prime minister by her first name). Meanwhile, on Twitter someone tells me that in Wales it is common to deal with the problem of Joneses by referring to them with reference to what they do. So, Jones the companion? Jones the … whatever it is we think Ianto does at Torchwood? Jones the PM? Somehow, that gets even more awkward in terms of construction, despite being infinitely more hilarious.

2. The Face of Boe presents a similar problem. Do I reference him continually as the Face of Boe, or do I, after the first mention, shorten that? And if so, do I shorten it to the Face or Boe? If I shorten it, I’m leaning towards the Face. That said, on Twitter, this provoked amusing levels of varied opinion and raised the issue of appropriate pronouns for the thing/person/tentacle monster/Face/Jack. Help me, Internets, help me!

3. Apparently, according to the Sherlock commentary tracks, everyone does this, but I keep writing (in a different article than the DW one mentioned above) “Sherlock and Watson” when I meant to write “Holmes and Watson.” This is an entirely aggravating up-hill battle that I shouldn’t even need to be having.

I have these sorts of problems a lot, and recently felt sort of embarrassed that on some of the HPA stuff I’ve been doing about gender and bullying I keep referring to Snape as Severus, as if he’s an old friend. But of course, for me, fictional characters are old friends, even if that’s inappropriate to disclose in most scholarly settings (of which the HPA isn’t one).

I even tried to determine if I get the most antsy about first name/last name issues around characters about whom I’ve done transformative work (fanfiction, for those of us who aren’t being delicate about it), but that really doesn’t seem to be it either (although, it’s surely the case regarding both Snape and Ianto Jones). I suppose that it’s just, as it often is in my writing, mostly about cadence.

For the other folks out there doing scholarly work, what weird problems do you have of this ilk? Because it surely can’t just be me. And I need some amusement while I stare at the 50 pages I need to write in the next few days while also moving my office.

24 thoughts on “today’s acafen problems”

  1. I actually have the same issues with my Byzantine imperial agents — the tendency to call them by their first names, familiarly, like they’re friends.

    Equally exacerbated by their having extremely common last names, sometimes. (Ouranos. Or worse, Phokas.)

    1. So what do you do… just write the whole bloody thing out over and over again? It’s so awkward, although I suppose not as awkward as the excessive familiarity bred by the intimacies of fanfiction.

      1. I haven’t actually decided yet how I’m going to deal with it in the dissertation. I keep hoping I can get away with the familiarity, but I probably can’t.

        I spend so much time with these dead people, though, it’s like they’re friends. Or characters.

        1. For mine, since H. Jones, I. Jones and M. Jones never get mentioned in the same section with each other, I’m hoping context will clarify the Jones in question. Of course, this is also what editors are for.

  2. My students are going to run into this problem this weekend as they write their papers. They have to reference Doyle’s Holmes and Watson, as well as the versions from possibly as many as five different film versions. At least The Great Mouse Detective (because I’m five) gives them Basil of Baker Street and Dr. Dawson to vary it a little.

  3. I’ve always heard the Face of Boe referred to simply as Boe, but if you were going to go with Face, maybe the Face? Maybe for the Joneses use their first initials? As for Jack/Boe, I haven’t really paid attention, but within the show, haven’t they referred to the Face of Boe as “it” before? If not, knowing what we know, or at least what was inferred, I think it would be appropriate to refer to the Face of Boe as either he or it, since we know it’s Jack and we have no reason to believe he underwent any sort of sex/gender transformation. Although the Face of Boe did give birth in series 1 so…I’m going to shut up and get back to work now.

    1. Yes, pregnancy does not make the Face of Boe a she. But I’m torn on the he vs. it thing. I need to rewatch some of the FoB episodes tonight anyway, so maybe I’ll figure it out then.

      1. If you take the Doctor and the cat nun as authoritative on the Face’s preferred pronouns, they both used “he.”

  4. I’d go with “the Face” if you’re truncating that.

    Also, this is definitely what editors are for. Are you in a position to write ahead now and ask for preferences? That could save time and sanity if it’s an option.

    1. I am, but it’s probably better for me if I just power through and we can all do search and replace funsies later. I may be able to resolve the Joneses matter through good construction. And what works best for the Face may not really be clear until it’s seen in text.

  5. I’m working on a paper at the moment that, at one point, referred to one person by their full name over and over again (they got mentioned too many times) when everyone else was last name only. Actually, you’ve just made me realise there’s someone else who’s initials and last name. He should lose his initials to match everyone else, as well.

  6. What about abbreviating the names as M. Jones, H. Jones, and I. Jones? That’s how scientific names for living things are shortened after they are mentioned (e.g. Homo sapiens becomes H. sapiens), in addition to being italicized, of course. That was the first thing to jump to my mind, anyway. Good luck!!

        1. I agree with your suggestion, but the analogy is backwards: Homo is the more general term, so is more analogous to Jones in this case. That gives us Ianto J., which is weird.

  7. Technically, I believe the correct form when talking about texts is to use the form by which the character is addressed by the narrative (it’s not like talking about authors and producers who get referred to by their last names.) It’s not to do with familiarity, just convention. So Ianto ought to be Ianto, Martha ought to be Martha, Face of Boe ought to be Face of Boe, and Harriet Jones ought to be Harriet Jones. Like… when talking about Pride and Prejudice, one wouldn’t call Elizabeth, “Miss Elizabeth”; or refer to Darcy/Mr. Darcy as “Fitzwilliam”.

    1. Well cool, even if it gives me hives (it does!). I guess my most significant encounter with this in the past has been Harry Potter, where it is Snape, and so I’ve settled on that reflexive last name thing (which felt particularly important in the mourning paper, actually — even if it was incorrect — because since I was very present in the paper I needed a sort of distance where I wasn’t). That said, anything that can solve the Joneses problem, I’m happy to take.

      It really does give me hives though.

      Also, this is more fun as an arbitrary quandry, tragically. Respond to my email of woe?

      ETA: oh hey, you already did.

      ETA2: Gah, I think I also tend to do the last names thing because I’m thinking like a journalist, which is sort of hilarious, considering the subject of the DW piece I’m doing.

  8. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a dissertation that used the first names only because they were writing about a family that all had the same last name. I’ll see if I can find an example I can link you to.

  9. That actually isn’t a problem I’ve ever had. When I refer to characters in literature I’m studying, I always refer to them by their first names, or however they’re called in the work. The author I refer to by last name, of course, but characters always by their first. I’d never think of doing it any other way.

  10. How charming is it that the Welsh have retained the medieval practice of refering to multiple people with the same name by occupation? i love little things like that.

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