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I am to translate an extract from John M. Ford's novel The Last Hot Time. It begins with this passage:

"Her name is Norma Jean?"

"Around here," the small man said, "names are something that one keeps to oneself. We call people things. He indicated the big man and the elf in turn. "This is Lincoln McCain. And Cloudhunter Who Keeps His Sisters' Counsel, though Cloudhunter will do. I'm called Mr. Patrise." He spelled it.

The word "call" was typed in italic in the same way I showed. I'm struggling to understand why "call" is highlighted, as well as to figure out the meaning of the sentence with this word ("We call people things").

Initially I thought that its meaning is somewhat close to " We don't use real names but create nicknames instead".

However, I'm in great doubt now whether it really means what I think it means, because after these words Mr. Patrise introduces the people and the elf and calls them by their names, for Lincoln McCain and Patrise sound more like real names rather than fake or nicknames. This is where my difficulty lies. And I'd like to know if my previous guess regarding the matter was right or not.

Please explain the meaning of that sentence as clear as possible, or rephrase it in an understandable way within this context.

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Judging by my reading of the plot synopsis blurb, I believe your initial suspicion is correct, that the people's "names" are not their "real names". Think of it less like a nickname and more like a pseudonym or an alias. The plot synopsis has these interesting two blurbs:

A violent incident on the road brings Danny the favor of a man known only as Mr. Patrise, who gives Danny a job, a home, and a new identity.

And this line afterward:

The City is a different world from the one Danny — now called Doc — knew, and literally so.

A nickname usually signifies a sort of connection with the person. A sense of familiarity or comfort that allows you to call someone else by another term that's not normally their own.

On the other hand, a pseudonym is slightly different. A pseudonym is a fake name (though usually, the term refers to authors) sometimes for humorous reasons, but more often for anonymity. I'm sure you're using an alias or a pseudonym in your username right now: I'm about 99% confident your real name or given name wasn't "user12152" :)

This is the implication by why the word "call" is italicized. Mr. Patrise is differentiating between a "name" (or if you want to be fancy and mythological, a true name) is what you call yourself, what people who know you call you. It carries a sense of personal identity, and in this case, an exposure of anonymity. He says, "around here, we call people things." He's implying that the "names" that he gives aren't the real names, but pseudonyms that they make up for themselves. And "fake names" don't have to sound fake - a good example is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who's more famously known by his pseudonym Mark Twain. A fake name doesn't have to sound fake, a fake name is simply a name that isn't your real name.

TL;DR: when Mr. Patrice says, "We call people things around here", he's not saying "We create nicknames for ourselves", but rather, "we give people names". He's differentiating between associating a name with an identity.

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  • I'd say a closer paraphrase of his sentence than "what you call us isn't our real names" would be "we give people names". (This might be more helpful to the OP in their translation project, as it paraphrases Mr Patrise's second sentence [the one being asked about] rather than his first.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 20 at 23:28
  • Good point. I'll update accordingly in a bit Feb 20 at 23:41

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