Spell My Name with a Blank
September 3rd 18––
My Dear T___ T___
While it is no longer the current fashion in these tell-all times, in the 18th century and the early part of the 19th, it was practically de rigueur
to refer to certain personages and locations merely by a single letter, or in some cases, a mere blank. This, no doubt, found its origin in the newspapers of the period, wishing to avoid suits at law when repeating gossip about public figures, from politicians
and possibly even members of the R____ F____
. The form was adopted by writers of novels, when obliquely referring to same
or to entirely fictional characters, or even to fictional cities and counties
. Often, stories that were based upon actual events
would use a blank to avoid referring to real people. With that in mind, you will better understand when I tell you about what Mr. A____ said to the Countess of B____
in the gardens of _____ House when the Earl was not listening.
A common variation is to do the same thing with dates, as to obscure when
the events in question took place as well as where.
Reading these works may have you wishing for the decoder key...or as Monsieur T____ of the French Lit Crit circle would say, the "Clef" of the Roman ŕ Clef
. Or look for a pulldown menu.
Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. Svt. R____ S____
open/close all folders
- Reader inserts commonly use blanks in the place of the reader's name, hair/eye colour, and other personal details.
- Memento has Leonard Shelby's much sought after nemesis, John G_____.
- Kill Bill: The protagonist's name is bleeped out when it is spoken in Vol. 1. It's only in part two that you discover her name is Beatrix Kiddo.
- Frankenstein used this from time to time, but with dates instead of places. For example, in Robert Walton's letters to his sister, the date is given as "Dec. 11th, 17--".
- Major ____ de Coverley from Catch-22. An unusual example: his first name is unknown because he looks so impressively forboding, with his Eyepatch of Power and all, that no one dares to ask him what it is. It turns out that he's not really all that tough.
- In The Count of Monte Cristo, there is a minor character named Countess G_____. However, this is a subversion, as she's based off of the real Teresa, Countess Guiccoli (and the mistress of Lord Byron).
- Pride and Prejudice
- has the ____shire Regiment. In the movie version with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, this is explicitly pronounced "Blankshire".
- Also, Colonel Fitzwilliam is the younger son of Earl ____.
- In Mansfield Park, the eponymous estate is in ____shire, although whether it's the same ____shire as Pride and Prejudice we may never know.
- In Crime and Punishment Rashkolnikov lives on M_____ Street. The blanked-out street names in Crime And Punishment were obvious enough that historians have been able to tell exactly what they were just by looking at a map of 19th Century St. Petersburg.
- The Robert Louis Stevenson short story "The Body Snatcher" has a character named Dr. K—. The story was Ripped from the Headlines, and he was a thinly veiled fictional version of the real-life Dr. Knox.
- Edgar Allan Poe used this a lot—mostly for years, but occasionally for the names of important people.
- House of Leaves uses this extensively.
- Most of Balzac's work (and just about all 18th century French fiction, for that matter) uses "Chevalier de *****" or "Marquis de *****".
- Brillat-Savarin refers to his pretty cousin, Madame R_____ (known to history as Juliette Récamier), in The Physiology of Taste.
- In Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Moonraker M's name was given as M**** M*******. In The Man with the Golden Gun it was revealed that his real name was Miles Messervy.
- It can't be a very well-kept secret, in the film The Spy Who Loved Me, General Gogol addresses M as "Miles".
- Dame Judy's M apparently is also named for her initial, but she threatens to have Bond killed if he says aloud what it stands for.
- The recent novelizations state her name as Barbara Mawdsley.
- The idea may have been taken from Real Life British Secret Service chief Sir Mansfield Smith-Cummings who was codenamed "C".
- Several works of fiction have stated that the head of the MI-6 is named M after the first holder of that position, Mycroft Holmes.
- In Jane Eyre a blank was used for the name of given counties, or names of large cities.
- The only time the nameless hero of The Time Machine is addressed by name, this trope is used.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker where Celie refers to her husband as Mr. _____.
- The film, interestingly, does provide names. "Mr." is Albert Johnson, for example.
- Charles Dickens used it a couple of times, such as the city in which Oliver Twist was born.
- Although in the original serial publication (now available as the Penguin Classics edition) it was named as "Mudfog" in the first line. Perhaps he just realised that wasn't a very good name...
- Samuel Richardson never reveals the name of Pamela's antagonist: it is always written as "Mr. B_____"
- Inconsistent redacting of the name of his estate across editions suggests that it's Brandon.
- In Henry Fielding's two deconstructive parodies, Shamela and Joseph Andrews, The B stands for Booby.
- Black Beauty does this with the Earl of W_____ and the Duchess of B_____.
- The Joseph Conrad novel Under Western Eyes has its plot set in motion by the assassination by Bomb-Throwing Anarchists of a Czarist official, de P_____. It's noted in the Penguin Classics edition that the official is a Composite Character of an actual person who was assassinated who had a P name and another who wasn't assassinated but who the anti-Czarist Conrad probably hoped would be.
- Barchester Towers has a scene where the government has just fallen. It names both the defeated Prime Minister, and the incoming one, as the Earl of _____. In the audiobook version, they are the Earl Russell and The Earl Of Derby, respectively.
- The Marquise of O. by Heinrich von Kleist
- The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing does this with names of publishing companies the main character works for, in order to give the impression that the stories are real memoirs and she's avoiding throwing any real people under the bus (which was also usually the purpose of "spell my name with a ____" in classic literature).
- Mark Twain does it a lot, too.
- The earlier editions of Les Misérables used D_____ and M_____ sur M______ for Digne and Montreuil-sur-mer; in later editions they were replaced by the actual names.
- Also was the usage of Mr. G———, the man that the Bishop of Digne spoke to near the beginning of the book.
- One of the funniest twists on this trope appears in John Dryden's poem "MacFlecknoe," which satirizes the playwright Thomas Shadwell.
No Persian Carpets spread th'Imperial way,
But scattered Limbs of mangled Poets lay:
From dusty Shops neglected Authors come,
Martyrs of Pies, and Reliques of the Bum.
Much Heywood, Shirly, Ogleby there lay,
But Loads of Sh—— almost choak'd the way.
- An odd example occurs in Thomas Hardy's poem "On 'The Higher Criticism'", which blanks out "Jesus Christ." Perhaps so that he would not ever have to write the words "Jesus Christ did not reappear", even if the claim was being attributed to other people.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "The Revolt of Islam" is dedicated to Mary ____ ____.
- His friend Lord Byron used blanks to get in one final dig at a politician he loathed:
Posterity will never survey
A nobler shrine than this:
It is the grave of Castlereagh-
Stop, traveler, and ——.
- In Tales of the City, Michael hooks up with a closeted gay movie star named ____ ____ (who in hindsight was obviously Rock Hudson, but no one would have believed that in 1978).
- The stock placeholder town name in classical Russian literature is "the district seat N_______".
- Dead Souls starts with a carriage arriving to a hotel in "provice seat NN".
- The Twelve Chairs, written and set in mid-1920s, starts with "In the district seat N ..." The overused cliché, combined with the old word for districtnote gives the impression of a remote backwater still stuck in the 19th century.
- The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin, written in 1940s, uses more modern variant — "Ensk" ("N" + town name suffix "-sk"). See also World of Tanks example in Video Games section.
- Animorphs does this in Book 23 to Tobias' last name so that the Yeerks wouldn't have a vital clue to the kids' identities; a precaution that proved useless in later books.
- Combined with Narrative Profanity Filter in The Egypt Game. Swear words uttered by April are rendered as blanks.
- E. E. Cummings did it for his best friend "B____" (also "B." for Brown) in his war-prison-tale The Enormous Room.
- In Chekhov's 'The Lady with the Pet Dog', the name of one city (S___) is blanked out. Curiously, none of the others are.
- Heavily used in the form of asterisks in Alexander Pushkin's prose, such as The Shot, The Blizzard, The Captain's Daughter, and others.
- In The Confusions of Young Törless, Törless' boarding school is referred to this way.
- Treasure Island: James Hawkins takes up his pen in the year of grace 17— to recount his brush with pirates.
- This trope occurs in multiple works by Franz Kafka
- The protagonist of The Castle is simply called K.
- The main character of The Trial is at least given a first name. He is referred to as Joseph K.
- Kim Newman's "Richard Jeperson" stories (part of the Diogenes Club series) are all mostly set in the 1970s, but are fairly ambiguous as to the precise setting (although careful reading can give a few clues as to roughly when each one is set), and every time a specific year is mentioned it is presented to the reader as 197-.
- The letters in The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls are addressed in this style. Justified in that it's autobiographical, to protect people's privacy.
- In "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" by Montague Rhodes James, the first clue to the treasure is found in the private chapel of Lord D___.
- A Study in Emerald does this with the narrator's name and service record, giving his regiment as the __th and his initials as S______ M_____.
Live Action TV
- This is how Templars refer to themselves in the Glyph and Rift puzzles in Assassin's Creed.
- In RuneScape, there is a book on the history of the Moon Clan which mentions a man named V- - - - - - and an object named the Stone of J- -. V- - - - - -'s real name is said in the "While Guthix Sleeps" quest and varies from player to player, but the object is always the Stone of Jas.
- One of World of Tanks maps is "Ensk" — a deliberately unremarkable provincial town in Russia.
- The SCP Foundation often blanks out the names of personnel, such as Dr. ███████.
- Typically in Echo Bazaar, individuals are called the Adjective Noun - the Repentant Forger, for example, or the Cultured Attaché, and so on. However, in letters names usually take this form.
- The American Censorship website campaigning against the late 2011 SOPA and PIPA web censorship bills encouraged users to censor their tweets and Facebook posts in this manner in protest. This was regarded as a huge success by ███████ and ███████████.