Too many names for a character.

by J.A. Santos
(Puerto Rico)

Hello I have a question concerning names for a character.

I have been writing my story called Elias for over a year now, where one character has a total of 4 different names before her real name is revealed on the story. If I may (and i have to be a vague as possible here) The story starts with the main character and his actual problem where he knows this other character that leads him to the first part of the story. Later he learns that the name he knew is a lie and confronts her (yes it is a woman) she tells him another lie and another name (which is just a surname or pet name from her name she gave him earlier) then after some incidents he learns that her name is another, but that name is coerced by the bad guy (he learns this later) but he can not trust her. Now we have three names for this character, and getting to the closing act, she tells him her real name (name number four) where she tells him she is on his side. My question is this, is that too many names for one character in a novel? (just in case it is not finished and is now at 51,749 word count, give or take.)

Answer: Generally, you want your narrator to have one name for a character, because that's less confusing for the reader. If you're using an omniscient narrator, your narrator will use the same name throughout, regardless what various characters call her at different points in the story.

If you're using first person or limited third person narration, where the story is told from the main character's point of view, I think your best option is to have your main character think of her by one name consistently, even as he learns her other aliases. He may continue to call her by that name throughout the story, when they are alone at least, even if he uses her other aliases in dialogue when he is playing along with her pretense.

You might even have a moment when, having learned her second name, he says to her, "So what should I call you, X (the first name) or Y (the second name?" and she replies, "Call me X." From then on, no matter what other aliases she comes up with, she will always be X to him and in the narration. (You don't actually need this bit of dialogue for this choice to work, it's just an option.)

A similar situation often happens in real life when someone changes his name or is given a nickname by a certain group of friends or relatives. In this way, one person may come to be known by different names to different people. (I know several people who now go by a different name than the one they used when I first met them, but I tend to think of them as the first name I knew them by.) Since you're writing from one person's point of view, it is easier for that person and the reader to use one consistent label for each character.

Your other option is to have your main character try to keep up with the woman's name changes, but it's more work to make this clear to your reader, especially because there are some readers who like to skip chapters.

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