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Multiple names, same character

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enesthi

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The current story I'm working on has a main character who goes by 3 different names throughout the story. There's his real name, a stage name he uses (he's a performer for part of the story) and a fake name he uses later on to hide his identity.

Is it going to be too confusing for someone reading this that the name changes? So far I've been referring to him by the name he goes by at the time, but I'm wondering if I should stick to using his real name the whole time, and only have other characters use the alternate names.

The story is in third person primarily from his perspective, so I'm hoping as long as I keep perspective straight nobody will have trouble sorting out who's who.
 

SaucyPaladin

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Your story could be confusing, if you choose for it to be. And if he's using a fake identity, maybe it should be confusing.
 

jjdebenedictis

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I'm doing something similar right now, in that my character has a real name and then a fake name that people around her shorten in two different ways, effectively giving her two knicknames.

I'm handling it by always calling her by her real name in the prose, but using her fake names in dialogue. I.e.
"And Silkskin?"

The sergeant's voice sounded friendly, but when Tanika looked over, the woman's expression made her face heat in shame.

"Next time you see a dead man walking, try not to scream like a rabbit? It gives away our position."
 

Tex_Maam

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I don't think it has to be confusing - in the Earthsea books, most people have at least two names (a true name and a regular everyday use-name) and I think some people had child-names too. It's been awhile, so I don't remember all the details, but short answer: you totally can make that work if you're careful with how you introduce the names, and if you want to see a good example of it, I can totally recommend Ursula K. LeGuin.
 

DanielaTorre

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When someone is speaking to him, use the name he's being referred to in the dialogue. Then when the MC responds, have the dialogue tag say his real name. At least to open the exchange. Use his real name throughout the story. Be consistent with, only referring to the other names via dialogue with other characters.

I don't think it'd be that confusing. Again, just be consistent with the real name. Perhaps establish the fact that he goes by three names at the beginning to avoid future problems.
 

Bufty

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Depends where he is what name is used -you simply have to write with clarity.
 

OnlyStones

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This is a very timely thread for me. My WIP is an historical fiction piece that deals with American Indians who often changed their names. I have three characters who will have their name change written into the story line. One has already been dealt with in the back story, I'm in the process of one happening in the story now, and at least one more will occur before the story is over.

I agree with Bufty, clarity is the key, but it's one thing to say that and another thing to actually achieve it. Gotta love the challenge though!
 

enesthi

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Well I'll have to look into the Earthsea books now, but at least I've got some good advice to start with.
 

Kalea

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As long as it's set up clearly, and there is no overlap between the stage name and the fake id, I think it would be fine.

Where it would be troublesome for me is if all three names were used without any explanation, or if it was a blink-and-you-miss-it type sentence. I try to read carefully, but I seldom get to read much without interruption.
 

Sunflowerrei

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You just need to make it clear that all three names are the same character.

Besides, Tolkien uses at three names, plus titles and epithets for multiple characters in Lord of the Rings.
 

Bookewyrme

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It doesn't have to be confusing. But if you're worried, have a "character list" at the beginning or end of a book, and include all the characters' names in each entry. I just finished a book by Georgette Heyer where every character had their given names, plus several titles (some of which changed), and were referred to by their various titles frequently. It was horribly confusing, due to changing titles and everyone having the same given name (and being related!) but the character-list at the beginning saved me throughout the book.
 

Elijah Sydney

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Shouldn't be confusing at all if the changes of name are all part of the story.

How you handle it depends largely on how many POVs you are writing from. If the only POV you use is your MC's then, as others have said, in the narrative stick to his original name and in dialogue use whatever is appropriate. But if you have other POV characters who would only know your character by one of his other names, then that name should be used in the narrative as well, else it would be a POV violation.

Whatever you do, though, if it's all part of the story, trust your reader to get it. It's no big deal.
 

Civic

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When someone is speaking to him, use the name he's being referred to in the dialogue. Then when the MC responds, have the dialogue tag say his real name.

This. As long as you make it clear when the second name is first being used that it relates to the same character, use that rule.
 

VoireyLinger

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I call mine his stage name for the first half of the book. The heroine switches to his real name at his request after that but he and his friends still use the stage name. His mother always calls him a diminutive of his given name and medical professionals and police call him by his last name.

The name used has to make sense for the person using it, including in narrative.
 

Laura J

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In my WIP, I have a hag that is called one name when she is the hag, and another when she is cloaked or looks like a normal person. I just use the name she looks like at the time.

I also have fae which don't give their real names to the MC until the end. In my story, knowing someone's real name gives you power over them, or so they believe. The MC will learn the name of the faery, but at the end, as a sign of trust. If I were to do another book, I think I would keep the her false name, because readers would come to know her as that name. If I ever have readers.

This thread was helpful. Thanks.
 

alexaherself

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I'm wondering if I should stick to using his real name the whole time, and only have other characters use the alternate names.

I'd do this, certainly.

When someone is speaking to him, use the name he's being referred to in the dialogue. Then when the MC responds, have the dialogue tag say his real name.

And this.

I think not creating confusion is probably preferable to relying on "devices" to resolve confusion, isn't it?
 

Ellielle

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How you handle it depends largely on how many POVs you are writing from. If the only POV you use is your MC's then, as others have said, in the narrative stick to his original name and in dialogue use whatever is appropriate. But if you have other POV characters who would only know your character by one of his other names, then that name should be used in the narrative as well, else it would be a POV violation.

This. If you're using a limited POV, just stay in line with that. And if the POV character is him, he'd probably use his real name the whole time.
 

Snowball2695

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As long as you explain that these are the names he goes by and not just throw them out there out of the blue you should be fine.
 

Andreas

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The current story I'm working on has a main character who goes by 3 different names throughout the story. There's his real name, a stage name he uses (he's a performer for part of the story) and a fake name he uses later on to hide his identity.

Is it going to be too confusing for someone reading this that the name changes? So far I've been referring to him by the name he goes by at the time, but I'm wondering if I should stick to using his real name the whole time, and only have other characters use the alternate names.

The story is in third person primarily from his perspective, so I'm hoping as long as I keep perspective straight nobody will have trouble sorting out who's who.

Sounds alright to me, Enesthi. Keep using his real name in the narration and from his POV. And only use the other names in dialogues or POVs of the other characters, or when the story itself needs to use his alternate names. (For example, when you write: "Today, Jack played the role of Mark Sinclair, a robber. The play started when Mark entered a cave filled with his loot..." Well, I'm no playwright, but you get the idea.)
 

Scarlet Tanager

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I'm in a similar situation. The MCs (three siblings) have known another MC by the name Riun all their lives, yet about a third of the way through they find out his real name is Araelyn. I kept him referred to as Riun for a while after (accept by one character, who called him by his real name in dialogue), until the youngest sibling (Sarah) took him aside and asked if she could call him by his real name. After then, I switched between the two names for a few pages before sticking with Araelyn.

I got the idea for how to handle it from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which (if I remember right) referred to Sirius by his last name (Black) for a while before using both the first and last names interchangeably before sticking with the first name.

Dunno if that helps any, since the situations different, but I do agree with the others about using his real name in narration (In my case and the HP one, Riun/Black was kinda the 'real name') while switching it up in dialogue depending on the situation.
 

Erin Kassikay

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The current story I'm working on has a main character who goes by 3 different names throughout the story. There's his real name, a stage name he uses (he's a performer for part of the story) and a fake name he uses later on to hide his identity.

Is it going to be too confusing for someone reading this that the name changes? So far I've been referring to him by the name he goes by at the time, but I'm wondering if I should stick to using his real name the whole time, and only have other characters use the alternate names.

The story is in third person primarily from his perspective, so I'm hoping as long as I keep perspective straight nobody will have trouble sorting out who's who.

I'd suggest sticking to his real name in the context but you can have others call him by other names. This way, the reader doesn't get confused.

Usually, when I read stories about characters with different names, it's because said character has different personalities.
 

toomanycarbs

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I am in the same boat. Multiple characters in my book have real names, and then nicknames that my MC uses because she doesn't know their real names. I think if executed correctly, there shouldn't be any confusion. The area where I have run into difficulty is in deciding how to address this in my summary.
 
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