Consider the brief passage:

"I love your work, but calling you 'the artist' {1} just doesn't seem to be cutting it anymore. What shall I call you?"

"OK. Call me George." {2}

So my instincts tell me to put {1} in single quotes as opposed to no punctuation (or perhaps even italics) but to do the opposite for {2}. Is this right? Why?

Let me expand this one further iteration:

"Wow, that's a great name, especially with this crowd. Maybe for your next book you should call yourself Ringo."{3}

  • 1
    Technically one could argue that "George" should be quoted, since you probably should quote, say, "Georgixify", just as "the artist" was quoted. But since "George" Is a recognizable person's name to most English speakers, and since it's by definition already a (proper) noun, the quotes would be unnecessary and probably distracting to the reader.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 14 '16 at 19:34

Clarity is the point of typography.

Personally, I like the literal quoting scheme, where quoted sections are punctuated as normal, excepting only the double and singles toggled for nesting. It's rather common to collapse final punctuation when the outer sentence and quoted sentence agree.

E.g. "I love your work, but calling you 'the artist' just doesn't seem to be cutting it anymore. What shall I call you?"

"OK. Call me 'George'."

As to why it seems different, I suggest it's because "Call me George" fits a pattern of use for "call" that isn't actually spoken, so would not be quoted. ("Call me later." "Call me off.")

Alternately, some schemes would skip quoting it simply because it's not, literally, a quote: It's an imperative to speak.

I would quote the called-out term, "George", since that clarifies the use of the word "call" in the sentence. (used as 'use the following in speech' rather than as a shorthand for 'describe as')

(Ed. It bears noting that simply capitalizing the word "George" calls it out as a proper noun, which grants it special distinctions.)

The typographic rules you should follow should be clear but also fit any rules established by a relevant authority; (publisher/teacher) Do realize that there are multiple competing conventions.

  • OK. I like your discussion. However, my personal preference (and I always acquiesce to a publisher's editor) is to use quotes specifically for words that are spoken or have been spoken. From this perspective, what do you think of George in italics rather than roman or single quotes?
    – Stu W
    Feb 14 '16 at 17:17
  • 1
    Some would do nothing, as Edwin points out. Others could use italics. (much in the manner of emphasizing foreign terms) I can say that I'd take just an instant longer to parse your intent sans quotes, yet italicized, but only just. It would be clear. In that specific case, even nothing would be fairly clear. Nothing, however, is the hardest to parse due to "Call me, George." as an adjacent option. Quotes remove such ambiguity.
    – The Nate
    Feb 14 '16 at 17:29
  • You're quite welcome.
    – The Nate
    Feb 14 '16 at 23:00
  • By the by, I tend to use single quotes when marking pseudo quoted stuff like that "George". In this case, then, removing those outer double quotes would leave it the way I'd tend to write that, still.
    – The Nate
    Feb 20 '16 at 13:54

Nowadays, we often use quote-like structures for report structures, with the same verbs, so I would argue that the following are all quite acceptable:

She wished him "Happy Birthday!" [salutation capitalised for emphasis as with a title]

She wished him Happy Birthday. [report structure mimicking quote structure]

She wished him a happy birthday.


She wished him "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

She wished him Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. [report structure mimicking quote structure]

She wished him a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


'OK. Call me "George".' (cf 'Just use/say "George" when we're off duty.')

'OK. Call me George.' [report structure mimicking quote structure]

  • So your basically saying it's a style issue?
    – Stu W
    Feb 14 '16 at 16:14
  • 1
    There are quite complex issues involved. 'Call me George' might be analysed as a 'complex-transitive' verb, like 'We elected him President', but feels subtly different. Most people would doubtless not use quote marks in either. But there is also the bracketing-for-clarity possibility: She's referred to as 'She Who Must Be Obeyed'. (Italics would be a perfectly good alternative here, were this not a set phrase.) Feb 14 '16 at 16:30

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