How to deal with character name change


#1

All right, so here’s my issue:

The POV main character in my series is essentially running away from her past. So when the character who hires her asks for her name at the end of chapter two, she refuses to give it and he thus bestows upon her a new name, which is the name she goes by for the rest of the series.

Because of this (and also to add to the mystery of the main character’s past), I don’t refer to her by a name until the end of chapter two. All through chapters one and two, I refer to her as “she/her.”

I’m worried this could be a deterrent to readers (and agents). Should I just forgo the mystery of her real name and use it until she’s granted her new one?


#2

How much does the reader know about her running away? Is she happy to leave her name behind with her past? If so, you could mention that somewhere in the first chapter so then the reader gets why you’re not mentioning it. Personally, I don’t think two chapters is a lot to wait for her name if we get the impression she doesn’t have a name for a reason.

But saying that, it might just be best to get people to read and ask them?


#3

The very first line makes it clear she’s escaping from somewhere and is looking to end her life. I actually haven’t gotten complaints from my readers, I’m just thinking ahead for going forward with my latest draft. I’ve just heard of some agents and whatnot who will stop reading if the character isn’t named at the very beginning, so I’m exploring possibilities.


#4

I think it’s something I’d take as it comes. If you go to a specific agent and that’s a complaint, then change it. But I feel like it could be one of those things where one publisher will say one thing, and another says something that contradicts it.

It’s good to explore different options, though.


#5

Thanks for the feedback! Yeah, I’m kinda just preparing myself for potential road blocks to getting it published (I tend to overthink everything).


#6

That’s fair enough. Good luck!


#7

Is it possible (I don’t know which work to know POV and timeline) to include early in the first chapter a line like “She was going to have to change her name after this” or something similar that informs the reader/agent right away that this character has an old name, but it’s pointless to use it, because it’s about to get changed?


#8

I think it depends.

Will you be sharing the actual name later on? And if so, will you be mentioning (either in narration (such as thoughts) or dialogue) about it throughout the story?

The mystery is fine - I’ve actually seen other types of stories do a similar thing. However, if you don’t have plans on sharing it later in the book or series, then there’s no need for a mystery.

But, if you do have plans, you might want to sprinkle in the mentions of a real or fake name throughout the book or series, up until the reveal. This is because if you say she changes her name in the beginning of the book, your readers may completely forget about how she has another name. So they need to be reminded every so often. :wink:


#9

That’s a good idea, but at the point the story opens, she’s set on killing herself, so changing her name isn’t that important to her. I could, however, mention leaving behind everything in her pursuit of death, including her name and identity.


#10

Yes, I do mention it a few times. She struggles with hallucinations, and not too far into the first installment, she has an auditory hallucination of someone calling her by her real name. And I actually reveal her first name in the third installment when she runs into someone from her past.


#11

OK, I see. So if it’s in the MC’s POV or narratively close at least, then it wouldn’t make sense for her to reject/pick any names if her initial conflict is about escaping/dying/living.

If you think it will work for your story, I think a line that mentions abandoning or leaving behind identity could help to communicate to readers/agents early on that there is a reason behind not using a character name.

I think readers are more forgiving of a lot of broken ‘rules’ if they can understand it’s intentional.


#12

I think that’s a good idea! Thank you!


#13

Personally, I think if you haven’t told the readers what her original name was, you could simply refer to her by the new name and either add in there someone discovering her old name or something just to add to the story. After all, the readers, if they know this name isn’t her original, will be curious and so you’d need to tie up that loose end anyway, so you could make it a smaller point of intruige. (granted they don’t know her original name already)

It’s kind of what I’m doing in my current WIP. My MC joined an organization of rebels and was given a nickname which she then precedes to use for most of her contact to hide her true identity as that would tie her back to her father and expose what she knows. She uses other aliases too along the route of the book but so far I’ve only inserted her real name once or twice and I don’t think i’ts confusing so long as you assert that it is the original name.

I hope that wasn’t confusing. :slight_smile:


#14

So these are actually the first two paragraphs. What do you think?

She should have killed herself the moment she escaped.

If only it had been cloudy that fateful morning. If the weather had been dark and dismal, she would already be finished with this miserable existence, leaving behind everything. Her name. Her family. The sins for which she could never repent.


#15

Thanks for your input! I do use her new name throughout the series, it’s just the first two chapters where I use no name.


#16

Okay, cool! Glad I could help some :slight_smile:


#17

As a general subject (as opposed to the specific scenario in @inkwellheart work) I think whatever the author can do to make it clear to the reader when/if a nickname or alias is being used and/or when a character changes their name is helpful.

That said, I understand that in some POVs there’s an issue of the POV character not being the one who has the information.

But, if a consistent nickname or label can be used instead of a pronoun then it’s generally easier to read.

Like, IDK if there’s a cinematic, objective POV and the character is dressed like a diner waitress then she can just be The Waitress until her name is revealed.

In subjective POVs it’s usually a matter of how the POV character knows a person.

Like, I just now was writing scene where the POV character knows another character’s name is Athen, and has previously met him under that name, but the other characters in the scene call Athen “Lu” or Lulu" in dialogue because he’s been using an alias with them.

I do confusing stuff like that all the time. I just try to make it as clear as possible that the same character has both names.

I also wrote characters who changed their names for various vocations or legal purposes. When it happened with a POV character, I just started a chapter with the line “He was John now” indicating he had begun to refer to himself this way.


#18

I need help.
So my main character starts off by saying the full name of another character full name example… “Alexander says” but later on my main character gives him a nickname in the dialogue she says"I’ll call you Alex", should the rest of the story be, “Alex says” or do I keep it the same “Alexander says”?


#19

If it’s Alexander’s POV, then I suppose it depends on whether or not he sees himself as “Alex.” It’s “Alex” from MC’s POV.

That’s how I write, anyway (because I love giving my characters nicknames, hehe)


#20

How many words in this character’s scenes before she gets her new name? If it’s more than a thousand, I’d seriously consider naming her. It’s difficult for a reader to follow a character for more than a few hundred words without an identity, unless being mysterious and unknown is part of her identity like in The Man with no Name series (which doesn’t seem to be the case here).

It’s much easier to change that identity when the plot supports it. It will also give the identity change more impact and meaning.

Edit: Note that the name you give her doesn’t have to be an actual name. It can be a pet name or descriptive, such as the the “red-haired girl” as long as it’s consistent. Your readers may wonder why you’re using a descriptive name, but if it’s described why or doesn’t last too long, it could work.