Robert Heinlein's novel The Rolling Stones has two or three unrelated names for six out of the seven main characters. The narrator and different characters use different names for calling each other. (The 16 year old twin brothers Castor and Pollux call each other Grandpa and Junior.)

Even though the family nicknames make sense in-universe, no explanation is given to the reader, and this was very confusing to me. It took me about a quarter of the book until I figured out just how many members the family has and who they are.

Did Heinlein deliberately try to confuse the readers with these names, or am I just too stupid to understand his prose?

  • 4
    My mother, father, grandparents, sister, wife, daughters, friends and co-workers all call me by different names and we don't always call each other by the same ones. Perhaps Heinlein decided it would make the characters more real to the reader, though confusion is certainly a side effect for most readers.
    – Firebat
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 5:03
  • 2
    The rerun commentary of strip #16 in Irregular Webcomic is directly relevant irregularwebcomic.net/16.html
    – b_jonas
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 13:46

3 Answers 3


I've read the book many times, and never had any trouble telling who was who.

So, I don't see any cause to assume Heinlein was trying to confuse anyone.

  • Thanks for your answer, maybe it confused only me. Mind you, it's confusing only the first time you read it. The characters are memorable, so you'll remember them later.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 20:57

I think the multiple names for each character may have been used as shorthand to let the reader know not only who was being addressed, but also who was addressing them.

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    My problem isn't that there are multiple nicknames, but that the narration doesn't give enough cues in the early part to figure out what the nicknames mean. When one of the twins first says "Grandpa", Heinlein could have easily made the narration mention that he's addressing the other twin, which would make the text more readable, but he didn't do that. Nor is it clear that early how many people are there even around, which is why I first assumed the grandpa was a separate character. I have a similar problem for the nicknames of the other characters.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:49
  • He's trying not to hit the reader over the head with it. Letting you figure it out via context.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:52

The confusion for the reader isn't deliberate, but it reflects the confusion that the Stone family would cause in anyone that visited them - the twins squabbling, Mother and Father having a discussion of what they ought to do, Meade on the phone, the baby crying and Grandma putting her oar in as she pleased. Heinlein did grow up in a large family, so that kind of situation was probably familiar to him.

It's possible that Heinlein was also deliberately emulating a particular style of movie dialogue - full of snappy comebacks and nicknames for characters, rather like a Cary Grant movie.


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