Why J.T.?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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I recently read a book, an excellent book I must add, and its male protagonist was called J.T. Wilder. In the entire book, more than 350 pages, his name wasn’t mentioned once.

It started me thinking: why would a man call himself J.T.? Why not John or Jeremy or whatever his name is? Does he hate his name so much? Why doesn’t he change it then, go the legal route? Or was it his parents who called him J.T.? Why? Or maybe he can’t decide which one of his names he wants to use: his first name or his middle name.

In my whole life, and I’m close to a retirement age, I’ve never encountered anyone who would substitute their name with their initials, unless it is fiction. Obviously, it is not a common occurrence in real life. Of course, there is O.J. Simpson, but he seems almost a fictional character too.

For me, J.T.  or O.J. feels less like a human name and more like a robot designation. I mean, you all know C3PO from Star Wars, but it was an android. A computer could be J.T. with a number, like JT-71. I wouldn’t blink. But a man? A man should have a name.

Where does this odd naming convention originate? Is it an American phenomenon or has it drifted here from Britain? When did it start? 20th century? 19th century? Before? Is it an English language quirk, or would French or German people use such a naming practice? Does it depend on the letters of the initials? J.T. sounds okay, I guess, but my son’s initials, for example, are I.Y. Would anyone use those instead of a name? It sounds funny.

What do you think about this naming approach? Could you answer any of my questions? Have you ever met anyone outside of books or television who would call himself by his initials? Would you name your character or introduce yourself in such a way? If yes, why?

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My writing news:
I’m participating in a drabble competition on the Writing Writers website. For your information, a drabble is a short-short story in exactly 100 words. They even give a monetary price to the winner, the one who gets the highest number of votes. If you’re interested in drabbles, here is a link to mine. Go there and read my story. Vote if you like it. The voting will be open until March 10th.

This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Why J.T.?

  1. Denise Covey says:

    I’ve never thought of this Olga, but it’s interesting. I don’t know anyone going by their initials only.

  2. Nilanjana Bose says:

    Reminds me of Rebecca where the MC is never mentioned by name at all. In the entire book we never get to know her first name.

    Do you think you would have enjoyed your book more if the character had a proper name? Is this a deliberate device to differentiate on the part of the author?

    I don’t know anyone in real life going by their initials only. The one exception I’ve come across was my former workplace – small outfit, everyone including me, was known by their initials. More a matter of convenience. Avoids cumbersome titles Mr/Mrs XYZ and also condenses long names like mine. Nicknames or truncating first names of bosses/superiors would be considered overly familiar/disrespectful those days, so it was a neat way to circumvent that. A very limited use of initials.

  3. lgkeltner says:

    I never stopped to think about this, but it is a fascinating topic. I don’t know anyone who goes by their initials, but I have known a couple of people who have only a single letter for a middle name. Naming conventions in general are quite intriguing.

  4. Erika Beebe says:

    Hi Olga. I do know of some people who go by a nickname, a last name, or a short letter combination. Most of what I know stems from sports. People love to give nicknames in sports. Maybe it’s easier to announce? I know the famous American singer JT (Justin Timberlake) does the same. I also see lots of names in my profession and frequently people get nicknames and use them as a preference instead of their real name. Great post question today. Happy IWSG Day 🙂

  5. J.S. Pailly says:

    I remember there was a kid I knew in kindergarten called A.J. I don’t remember what those initials stood for, if I ever knew at all.

    • rolandclarke says:

      My brother is called AJ for short – he’s Andrewjohn when he is being posh. In fact, as he lives in the family mansion and pontificates as the head of the family. He IS a robot. As ‘English gentry’, Andrew & John were family names – when we were born in the 1950s, there were already two John cousins.

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        Andrew John does sound like a post English gentry sort of name. A.J. sounds more approachable. Maybe that’s why some people go by their initials like that.

  6. I was friends with an LB and that was his name. It’s odd though. My cousin’s son has always gone by TJ, I don’t even know what the initials stand for.

  7. Might be a Southern thing. I know several people who go by their initials. I know one guy that his initials really are his name.

  8. emaginette says:

    Yes I met a man called JP, for Jean Paul, but he only told me his real name after I asked. At the time my nickname was Mags. It was a crazy time. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  9. Good luck with the drabble! Writing a story in exactly a certain amount of words is challenging but so much fun. At least for me. 🙂

  10. jrose88 says:

    My brother goes by AJ because, it turns out, he had some bone oddities that slightly constructed blood flow to his arms and hands. His coordination wasn’t the worst, but when it came to holding a pencil correctly and learning to write he would get frustrated easily. Somewhere in late middle school or early high school he started going by AJ instead of Arthur because it was shorter. I sometimes bug him about it (and his spelling, and punctuation, and grammar, and constant puns, omfg, the puns), but only because it’s required according to my Older Sister contract.

  11. I can’t think of anyone who just goes by their initials. A middle name or nickname but not initials. Now I’m going to start watching for this.

  12. Loni Townsend says:

    I’ve know a couple of my friends go by their initials. One was C.J. (short for Christianne Joy), though I called her Siege a lot of the time. Another went by E.J. for two years before returning to use the name Erika. It might be an American thing.

  13. Widdershins says:

    I’ve known a few people who use their initials as their name. But you question did remind me of an episode of M.A.S.H. where Hawkeye was going nuts trying to find out what the B.J in his friend BJ Hunnicut’s name stood for. It turned out that he was named for his mum, Bea, and his dad, Jay. 😀

  14. Back in the 1800’s, immigrants names were constantly changed to make them more “American.” Like, Joshua might be shortened to Josh, Albrecht becomes Al or Brett, Willaminia becomes Willa. American names are consistently shortened, or nick-named. Strange that you have never known anyone with initials for names, and stranger still that so many of my fellow commenters here have never met people with initials instead of names. At least in America (California where I’m from), legally changing your name is a complicated affair, where as using a suedo name or initials as an employment or business moniker is simply filing a single piece of paper, or just using it in daily life as long as your employment records match your social security number.

    Although my legal name is Donna, a lot of people I’m close to, and myself included, refer to me as D, or dd (even though my middle name starts with an L). I always thought this was a common American thing, using initials as pet names, or professional names when wanting to negate gender biases. And I see where a lot of authors use initials and a last name to not let a reader judge the book by the author’s gender.

    My husband named our son Clayton Donald because, he said, he always wanted to call his son CD. Luckily CD never fit his personality, even as a baby. He’s mostly been Clay. Or Bug, for obvious reasons, lol. In my life experience, legal names do not define the person you are. You kinda grow into your true name.

  15. yvettecarol says:

    You’ve got a good point there. I do very much admire the writer and teacher P.J Reece. As far as I know his real name has never been mentioned. He uses the initials on his books and his blog, and even when we’ve emailed back and forth he’s only ever used his initials. I think it’s a way of staying anonymous, but it immediately begs the question, why?

  16. rolandclarke says:

    Fascinating post, and as I’ve replied above, my brother is called AJ and we are English born in the 1950s. No obvious American influence.

  17. Juneta says:

    My uncle’s name was initials. WB that was his name, and no they did not stand for anything.
    Never heard the story behind that. I never thought to ask the question when he was alive. He was born around 1920.

  18. Juneta says:

    The other interesting thing was my dad had no middle name. He was the middle son but named after his father. dubbed Junior. When he went into the Army they said he had to have a middle name and the Jr. title that went at the end of his name became his middle name. Yes, they were born in American in Texas and his dad was from Tennessee. WB was the oldest brother.

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