When reading certain books I will encounter names of places or people that have been abbreviated. An example is in Catherine Hutter's translation of Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther":

A few days ago I met a man called V., an ingenuous fellow with a very pleasant face.

Why is this done?

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    It's not an exact duplicate, but there is considerable discussion of this at Why, in old books, are dates often given with the years redacted?
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 8, 2011 at 11:50
  • thanks that does appear to cover the same issues. I always just assumed it was related to translation but it seems to be more related to particular periods. Fascinating.
    – DQdlM
    Jun 8, 2011 at 12:10
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    This is the fallacy known as "complex question": the question, as it is phrased, assumes facts not in evidence.
    – Robusto
    Jun 8, 2011 at 12:16

3 Answers 3


Actually it's not a matter of translation.

I've checked the Italian version and the original German version (it should be the second entry), and they both had it abbreviated. So they just took it as is from the original work.

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    Yes, I seem to see this most frequently in Victorian novels, and always assumed it was because the author didn't want to come up with another name if the character wasn't central to the story. Either that or they wanted to give the impression that they were alluding to a real, contemporary person. However, that's purely speculation on my part.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 8, 2011 at 11:46
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    @Kit There's a reference for that in the link from Colin: "Initials, blanks, or both were often substituted for proper names in nineteenth century fiction to enhance the illusion of reality. It is as if the author felt it necessary to delete the names for reasons of tact or legal liability." Jun 8, 2011 at 13:40
  • @j-g-faustus I saw that, thanks. It's really interesting.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jun 8, 2011 at 13:43

My German copy of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers does exactly the same thing:

Vor wenig Tagen traf ich einen jungen V. an, einen offnen Jungen, mit einer gar glücklichen Gesichtsbildung.


Sometimes this can be because they do not wish to disclose their real names. As in your own example, as well as:

Mr. B. walked passed me this morning.

In a letter:

Sincerely yours,


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