So one of my main characters uses three different names throughout the story.

There's his nickname Warlock, his name Andreas, and his shorthand name Dre.

Warlock is probably used the most, enemies use it in combat with him, along with anyone not familiar enough to use his name.

Dre is used by all of his friends.

The problem one is probably Andreas, it's used to refer to him in his POV chapters but very few people call him that. Some workshops have pointed out it does lead to some confusion trying to work out that the multiple names are in fact the same person.

Any tips on this?

Couple of minor solutions I use in places that might help show what I'm going for.

Showing his response to dialogue in other names.

"Hey Dre!" Andreas turned when he heard his name. "Oh, hey."

Describing Warlock/Dre/Andreas when he enters, drawing attention to distinguishing features or habits so readers can more easily visualise him being the same person walking into a room to save dependency on his name.

  • 5
    Look up what Tolkien did for Aragorn in LOTR. He was called variously Aragorn, Strider, Telcomtar, and Estel, not to mention the Heir of Elendil and the First Ranger of the North. Jul 6, 2015 at 14:42
  • Regarding the opinions given to you in "some workshops": Feedback: What to use and what to ignore?
    – Philipp
    Jul 6, 2015 at 18:33

5 Answers 5


I think you need to find a consistent way to refer to him in the narration of the story.

You need to choose the name that the reader is going to know him by, if that is Andreas then your example would work perfectly regardless of what he was being called. If you emphasis those connections early in the story, maybe pointing it out in an early scene

"But Dre, why do they call you Warlock" Andreas' friend Bob asked.

Then maybe you could have his mother calling him Andreas (or hopefully something less clunky than these examples!)

Be consistent, lead the reader through story and they should be smart enough to keep track later on

  • 1
    Yes. This. Different characters should use different names for him, but pick one for the narration, or it's horribly confusing.. I once spend a few pages of a Tom Clancy novel trying to figure out why Jack and Ryan kept taking each other's stuff. Jul 6, 2015 at 16:00

Number one question: Why does your character have 3 names? This is inherently confusing. You're going to have some number of readers wondering, "Wait, you said just Dre and Nezbit were in the room. Who is this Andreas person? Where did he come from?" etc. Remember, you're dedicating months, maybe years of your life to writing this story. You are totally immersed in it. You have everything arranged in your mind. But the reader doesn't know what's in your mind. They just know what they read on the pages. You shouldn't expect the reader to have to study a fiction story like it was a math textbook and figure it out. They should be able to just read the story and understand it.

Well, there could be some mystery that you are deliberately making obscure. If at the beginning of the story you don't want the reader to know that Warlock and Andreas are the same person, and there are various clues and eventually the reader should figure it out, that's different.

Is there some reason why it is essential to the story for this character to have 3 names?

Sometimes we expect different people to address the same person differently. Like I normally expect a character to call his mother "Mom", not "Mrs Miller". But I certainly don't expect the IRS auditor to call her "Mom". (Assuming she is not his mother.)

Writers sometimes vary how they refer to a character for variety. I see the value in this, but it can be confusing. I recall one book I read where a certain character was generally referred to by his first name, and then suddenly at one point the writer refers to him as "the red-head". I was baffled who "the red-head" was. I went searching back through the pages I had just read to find any mention of someone with red hair. I finally figured out from context who he must be talking about, but as far as I could see, he had never mentioned his hair color before.

If it's really necessary to call a character by more than one name, I think you need to make this very explicit to avoid confusing the reader. Like say, "He heard someone behind him shout, 'Hey, Dre!' Andreas realized it must be his brother, because his brother was the only one who called him 'Dre'". Or flat out, "Andreas's enemies called him 'Warlock'".

Remember that even the broadest clue may be missed. If you write, "Andreas walked into the room. Someone called out, 'Hey, Warlock is here!'" Does that clearly tell the reader that Andreas is also called Warlock? No. A reader could surely be forgiven for thinking that you meant that someone warned Andreas that this other person, Warlock, was here, for example. Let me say again, just because you have clear in your mind who is who and what is happening, doesn't mean that that is obvious to the reader.

  • Well it's a real thing, not really a writing decision. There are people in the real world who have different names based on who they're talking to, family, old friends, colleagues etc. etc. If it's possible for such a person to exist in real life but that concept becomes too confusing to add to a written character then something is very wrong and characters become less realistic as a result.
    – sturrockad
    Feb 1, 2021 at 22:31
  • @sturrockad Just because something exists in the real world doesn't mean we have to include it in a fiction story. Sure, there are people who go by multiple names. I have a friend whose from China who's parents named her Ye Yuan but who in America goes by Amy. And routinely, someone might be Bob to his co-workers, Mr Miller to people who don't know him, Baldy to his friends, Cuddle-bear to his wife, etc. In real life that's usually not much of a problem because we interact with these people every day and get to know the various names. But in a story it can be confusing.
    – Jay
    Feb 2, 2021 at 16:38

I'm kinda having the same problem. Got myself a protagonist who is called Edvin in my first book, and then in the second one, his past is being revealed, and he had apparently lived a whole life full of conspiracies and lies, one being his name, which he changed from Arthur to Edvin before he returned home. The second book he's going to meet several of his old friends, all of which know him only as Arthur. I was planning to change his name at the chapter like: "I'm not Edvin anymore, he was only a ruse, a lie, a character I made to hide my true self; one that was long dead in the government's eyes. I am Arthur again, shit, hearing me say that myself feels so alien now." Maybe do what I did?


I think you should only use his true name and a name used by others who don't know him well. You should make Dre his real name and remove Andreas from the whole story. Unless three names are truly needed, I think it's overdoing it. Just try two.


I really like that you have him be referred to by different names. It adds nuance to his character. Now, I did something like this in one of my books. There was a character whose full name was never used at all to reference her, except in the very beginning. It's her formal name, and is only listed on official documents, and so on. Then there's her nickname, which is used for the majority of the book. Then a single character calls her something else. However, I use the nickname the most frequently.

Also, in the example above, Andreas can just turn his head around when someone calls him. The reader will understand that the other person is referring to him.

Or you could explain up front about his three names, only this way means that you have to avoid THE DREADED BACKSTORY DUMP. Good luck, and I hope the force goes with you.

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