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I don't really know whether I should use "distinction" or "difference" or something else!

My sentence goes like this:

For a better distinction among them, people were given nicknames, which reflected their character traits, or people assigned to themselves some, often, prominent lineage.

Also — what about the rest of the sentence? Does it look fine to you (i.e. is it clear that the meaning is that people assigned themselves names from famous families)?

Any help is appreciated.

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Is this a distinction without a difference? –  Peter Shor Apr 18 '11 at 21:19
    
I don't think so, no. –  drozzy Apr 19 '11 at 14:35
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The word you really want is distinguish.

To more easily distinguish between them, people were given nicknames...

There are of course subtle differences between "distinction" and "difference", but both of those words refer to the actually traits. What you want is a word that speaks to the action of noticing and acting on the traits, specifically telling them apart from each other. You are not talking so much about the distinctives as the act of distinguishing.

"Difference" is a much more generic work just referring to set of attributes that are different between two or more things in a set. "Distinction" is much more specific and often separates ONE item above and beyond the other differences in a set. E.g.:

All people have differences, but some have the distinction of being famous.

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