Nicknames Can Be More Consequential Than Nicknacks

Dave Astor on Literature

There are various ways we learn about a fictional character, and one shorthand route is when she or he has a memorable nickname.

Such is the case with the co-star of Kristin Hannah’s riveting, heartbreaking 2015 novel The Nightingale, which I finished yesterday. Isabelle is a young French woman who, during World War II, is nicknamed “The Nightingale” when she bravely risks her life time and time again sneaking downed British and American pilots out of Nazi-occupied France. Isabelle’s nickname evokes the night (the best traveling time to avoid detection during her fraught trips) as well as the melodious nightingale bird and the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale. The prickly, rebellious Isabelle — just 18 when she joins the French Resistance — is a helper. 

Obviously, a nickname can have negative connotations, too. In another WWII novel, Kate Quinn’s 2019 thriller The Huntress, the title is the…

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