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    I’ve noticed a (probably subjective) trend among genre fiction—especially sci-fi—that the name of the main character is the very first thing in the entire novel. Something like this:
    JOHN DOE sat taut inside the cockpit of his Ultra-Mega-Star-Bulldozer 1337. Large beads of sweat rolled down his forehead…”
    Then there’s also the unnamed-until-mentioned-in-dialogue model. I think the biggest example is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, where (I think) Harry’s name is revealed in dialogue between Dumbledore and McGonagall/Hagrid—even though the Dursley family was introduced name first, characterization second in the previous chapter.
    What further purposes do these models of introducing a character’s name serve? Do they make a big difference at all?

    P.S. The Moon People analysis/conspiracy theory is coming along swimmingly; I have NOT been driven mad by its eldritch contents.

    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2012

    From a reader’s perspective, I generally prefer to just get names out of the way early on. Just let us know who these people are, and then go from there. It’s also easier from a writing perspective, because it’s very clunky to keep going “the tall woman”, “the man with the jacket”, “the shifty-looking turnip”, etc. instead of just saying “Susan/Bill/Stabby McSlice”.

    That all being said, there’s plenty of cases where not using names right away can be an effective technique, as you have to focus more on the characters’ characteristics. It can also be used to heighten intrigue and can be more immersive in the sense that a random observer wouldn’t know a person’s name right off. Considering that, I’d say that withholding the character name (either deliberately for the sake of mystery or just because it would be awkward to shoehorn their name in) is probably often better and more difficult to do right (because you run the risk of seeming like you’re trying to build mystique in a very obvious way).

    I guess I think both are equally valid techniques. It’s awkward when a person’s name is just shoved in at random, but it’s also awkward when you’re about halfway through the book and you still don’t know anybody’s names.


    From a reader’s perspective, I generally prefer to just get names out of the way early on.

    Agreed. When you let it go too long, it becomes awkward to suddenly start calling somebody something other than their descriptor.

    It also depends on your point of view, who knows who, etc. In an omniscient narration, that isn’t even an issue.


    Funny you should make this thread now. I just got the first half of my first chapter critiqued somewhere and one problem is I don’t give many names so I had to keep on saying “the old man” and “the man in blue” etc and someone got a bit confused about who is who. I did it 1 for some mystery because you’re not meant to know who this man is yet, and 2 I didn’t name many other characters because most are kind of unimportant and probably won’t show up again. But like in the first Harry Potter chapter I’m just going to have the narration give most of the names. As for the mysterious man I’ve come up with the idea that people have created their own name for him, but I haven’t figured out what that name will be yet. I think that will solve that problem.

    On a side note I suck at picking names.

    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2012

    I do the whole name-first thing for the sake of letting the reader know who the main character is right off the bat.

    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2012 edited

    When I was a teenager, I used to never call a character by their name until it was spoken in dialogue. E.g. “the tall man smiled. ‘My name is Taku’, he said. Taku thumbed through a nearby magazine. ‘It’s nice to meet you’.” I thought it was clever and mysterious, and distanced the narration as a discrete observer, not an omnipresent everyperspective.

    :hangs head in shame:

    Thankfully, I got that knocked out of me fairly early, so these days I tend to introduce characters by their name first just to avoid confusion.

    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2012 edited

    Now I am looking back at what I have actually written so far to see how I introduce actually important people in later chapters who aren’t meant to be mysterious. One character is named very quickly by the main character greeting her. The MC’s name is hidden for a little bit until the other person says it which I think I did okay. Then we meet his parents who once again aren’t named until someone says it in dialogue, but I do refer to them as the king and queen and his parents so I also think this is okay maybe but I’ll probably add their names in the narration anyway.

    A few characters who haven’t appeared yet are referenced in dialogue so when you meet them it should be obvious who they are, like the MC saying he’s going to go meet up with the person and then he does. A lot of character names come from greetings. Then comes the first person named in narration by saying the MC recognised her as …............ And then another character is named in the narration. And another. And later on I give a name to probably a very unimportant character who is in the story for a second.

    I’ll stop there. So yeah I definitely need to fix the first chapter, and maybe name the king and queen a bit sooner. But it really depends on how you do it.

    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2012

    I usually drop names pretty early on in the narration. Unless there’s no room in the narration, in which case, dialogue works well. Unless there’s no dialogue.

    You can go a pretty long time without mentioning a character’s name without being too obviously mysterious about it, I’ve found. For instance, one story of mine was told entirely through journal entries, and the journal-writer’s name was naturally never revealed since people don’t generally refer to themselves in the third-person in their journals. No one in my critique circle noticed that the narrator was nameless until they tried to critique the story and refer to the character by name, at which point they were all “...we never learned his name.”

    It was quite amusing.

    In any case, how you introduce a character’s name depends on the narrative distance and form/style of writing you’re employing. With third-person omniscient, there’s no reason for important characters to be running around nameless, while in first-person and very close third-person, there’s no reason for important characters to be named unless the viewpoint character already knows them, and in second-person, you can get away with no names at all.

    With that said, I feel that it’s best to introduce a character’s name at the earliest possible point in the story. The character’s name doesn’t have to be the first thing in the sentence, but it’s a good idea to have it somewhere in the first sentence, or paragraph, at least. Names (or lack of them) are a rather strongly defining characteristic of a character, and not making a character’s name known early on can be a severe and unnecessary handicap, especially if you’ve got several unnamed-but-important characters running around.