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Spell My Name with a Blank

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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 to aristocrats 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.

See also Year X, for doing 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 à Clef. Or look for a pulldown menu.


Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. Svt.
R____ S____


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    Film — Live-Action 
  • Played with in the early James Bond movies. We don't get to see M's full name right away, as it's been redacted to "M*** M***". It's revealed much later, after which it's not a secret anymore.
  • Kill Bill: The protagonist's name is bleeped out when it is spoken in Vol. 1; she's mostly just referred to as "the Bride," or occasionally as "Kiddo" by Bill. It's only in part two that you discover her name is Beatrix Kiddo. It does appear as a Freeze-Frame Bonus in the first part, on her ID when she buys a plane ticket.
  • In Sorry to Bother You, the other black power caller is only referred to as Mr. [Bleep] or just [Bleep]. In text, the character is named Mr. _______. Writer-director Boots Riley calls him Mr. Blank.

  • In Les Liaisons dangereuses, places, dates and sometimes names (of purportedly prominent personalities) are given in blank.
  • 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 on the real Teresa, Countess Guiccoli (and the mistress of Lord Byron).
  • Pride and Prejudice
    • 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 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 (for example, the Dupin stories are all set in 18__), but occasionally for the names of important people.
  • House of Leaves uses this extensively.
  • Most of Honoré de 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.
  • John Buchan's thriller novels:
    • In The Three Hostages, Macgillivray emphasizes the outward respectability of the criminal ringleaders they're after by mentioning that one recently dined as a guest of — —, MP.
    • Later in the same story, Hannay reads an 18th-century book that includes references to "Lord A—", "the Duke of B—", and "Signorina F—".
    • The Island of Sheep has a similar bit about the outward respectability of the criminals in that one.
  • 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. Skyfall revealed (in a tiny background detail, no less), that it stands for Mansfield. Her first name is Olivia.
    • 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 Time Ships refers to H. G. Wells himself in this manner.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker where Celie refers to her husband as Mr. _____.
  • 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_____. The name and incident alludes to the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve.
  • Barchester Towers from The Chronicles of Barsetshire 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 ____ ____.
  • 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 "province seat NN", "the provincial city of N. N.", or "the provincial town of N." depending on the translation.
    • 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.
  • The Animorphs series repeatedly claims that the characters are actually writing these books in the midst of the secret alien invasion they describe, and they refuse to give their surnames to keep themselves hidden from the Yeerks. In the 23rd book, Tobias is addressed by his full name in dialogue and it's transcribed as "Tobias _____."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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_____.
  • There's a short story written by Woody Allen in which the narrator muses "Should I marry W___? Perhaps I should wait until she tells me a few more letters of her name."
  • In Barry Lyndon, which pastiches 18th century novels, there are the typical elisions of regiments and the like, and in the Naxos audio book, these are signaled by an amused clearing-of-the-throat. The example that stands out is a longish digression titled "The Tragical History of the Princess of X—-", wherein Barry tells about his sojourn in the Duchy of X—-, as well as additional information he learned years later from one of the witnesses. X—- is a Ruritania-style place implied to be one of the German states and the incident described involves a Tragic Romance between a nobleman and the wife of the Hereditary Prince and the Prince's ensuing murder of the lover and persecution of his wife. The reason for the cover-up of the location is presumably because the inserted story is based on events from several decades before the novel is set, wherein the future George I of Britain ordered the murder of his wife Sophia Dorothea's supposed lover, Philip von Königsmarck, and then imprisoned her for the remainder of her life.
  • The novel She does this to the dates and to the name of the college the protagonists are associated with, in order to preserve the fiction that Haggard is merely publishing another man's manuscript and leaving out identifying details, as the original author requested.
  • In Frankenstein, the dates of the letters are blanked out.
  • The main narrative of The Comfortable Courtesan does this for all middle- and upper-class characters, in the style of the Regency era. The ebook and print versions include a list at the beginning giving all the characters' full names.
  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton
    • Hypothetical locations in a novel (other than major cities such as London or Naples) are likely to be rendered only as "———". Eugene Aram, for example, begins, "In the country of ——— there is a sequestered hamlet...", and Night and Morning starts with "In one of the Welsh counties is a small village called A———". A Strange Story also hides the year this way: its first line is, "In the year 18—— I settled as a physician at one of the wealthiest of our great English towns, which I will designate by the initial L———."
    • The chapters in the compendium of entrants for the first Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest were headnoted with first lines of EBL novels and titled with reactions to same. Over one of these first lines with a blanked out name was the title, "The only mail they deliver to ——— is addressed to Occupant."
  • In Gone, Sam discovers a word document his mother was working on right before she disappeared, which blanks out all but the first letter of the names of the people and places involved. He spend a good part of the first book trying to figure out what exactly was meant by it.
  • In The Little White Bird, the protagonist is named Captain W––, and the story largely concerns his dealings with six-year-old David A–– and his parents.
  • A variant in Eileen. Eileen lives in the town of X-ville, the X obscuring the real name of the town.
  • In The Basic Eight, one of the main characters, V___, had her rich parents expunge her name from the story.
  • Temeraire is set in Regency England; though the series doesn't usually use the writing style of the era, the protagonist's narration in Blood of Tyrants refers to Closet Gay Naval officers as "Admiral D—" and "Captain K—" as if to protect their privacy and safety.
  • Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin's 1951 novel Madame de ... never fills in the ellipsis in the name of the title character. In The Film of the Book from 1953, The Earrings of Madame de..., every instance of the protagonist (or her husband, "de ..." being her married name) being addressed by name is either cut off or drowned out in some way, and when her name is seen on a card, the last part is hidden.
  • Nona the Ninth: In the Cataclysm Backstory sections describing John's ascension to God-Emperor, his companions are written as "M—" and so on prior to their Meaningful Renames as his Saints, which retained only their first initials. It also references that he modified all their memories to an unknown extent at the same time.
  • Kushiel's Legacy: The true name of God is rendered as "_______!" when spoken aloud. Listeners perceive it as the word "LOVE" in their native language, but, given that it's first spoken in total silence by a tongueless priest, this is most likely A Form You Are Comfortable With.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Referenced in Lost in Austen, where Darcy finds Amanda's copy of Pride and Prejudice and angrily berates her for writing a tell-all involving all the characters without bothering to change or blank out their names.
  • TV Tropes terminology notwithstanding, it's generally called Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23. (Announcers read it as "Don't Trust the B".)

  • Both of x0o0x_'s YouTube channels are nameless, and almost all of their songs are nameless. These blank titles are created by using a "zero width non-joiner" for the title. This namelessness contributes to their Reclusive Artist status and makes searching up their music extremely difficult, if not impossible.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering's joke card _____.
  • The official name of the infamous "Birthday Pikachu" from the Pokémon Trading Card Game is "_____'s Pikachu" — the idea being that you write your own name in the blank. That's "Birthday Pikachu" in the plural, by the way — there's three of them, all with different gimmicks that only work on your birthday.

    Video Games 
  • This is how Templars refer to themselves in the Glyph and Rift puzzles in Assassin's Creed.
  • Fallen London: Used vehemently when a character cannot be addressed by Their Adjective-Laced Title or with a pseudonym (Doctor Schlomo is Sigmund Freud, Mr. Huffam is Charles Dickens).
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Spirit Hunter: Death Mark and its sequel Spirit Hunter: NG, characters have their names shortened to initials when they're being reported on. In the case of the Urashima Woman, this makes it impossible to track down her child, as he's only known as Boy T.

  • The Hazards of Love: In the cast page and author's commentary, after the protagonist's name is stolen and before they get a new name their name has a strikethrough through it when referring to them.

    Web Original 
  • The SCP Foundation often blanks out the names of personnel, such as Dr. ███████.

    Real Life 
  • 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 ███████████.
  • There is an urban legend, as related by Snopes, about a girl whose parents were eccentric enough to give their daughter the Ghetto Name of Le—a (spelled like that, and pronounced Ledasha).

T__ S______.