I'm currently writing a story about a girl who was found by a couple in a magical isolated town, where everyone is named by the leader. I want her to not have a name because of two reasons:

  1. She doesn't belong in this town so the leader cannot give her a name
  2. Names have special power that the leader can use so by not being able to name her, he has no control over her (I'm hoping to work this angle later on in the story).

I'm finding that I'm struggling to try to keep a name out of it and I'm just wondering if there are any tips anyone has to keep a nameless main character OR if there is a different angle I can approach that still keeps the idea that "names have power"?


10 Answers 10


All the way back to A Wizard of Earthsea, the Names-Have-Power trope usually handles this by giving people nicknames for "public" use. Their real names are closely-guarded secrets.

You can definitely give your protagonist a nickname; that's what people would do in the situation, because you have to call her something, and that also solves your problem.

If you want to emphasize her namelessness, you can put focus on how these monikers are nicknames, not her real name. One idea would be for different people to use different names; none of the nicknames "catch on" and become a widely-accepted name for her. You could even have her give a nickname to herself, if you need a name she gives herself from her own POV.


If everyone in the town is named by the leader, and a couple adopts her, then most people are going to refer to her as "the Kents' girl." To her face they might cal her "Miss Kent" or "Kent Girl," depending on their level of courtesy.

She can earn a use-name later depending on what she does, what she looks like, or how she behaves, like Carpenter, Red, or Stubborn.

I should also note that the first-person narrator of Rebecca, the second Mrs. de Winter, is never given a name. When we studied the book in high school our teacher said she made every class come up with a name for her just so we could talk about her. (Our class chose "Mandy" from Manderley, the name of the house.)


There are two ways you can accomplish not giving a name to your character.

  1. Since there is a reason why she isn't given a name, you can simply explain that reason to the reader (e.g. by having the characters talk about it) and have the community handle the problem of a person not having a name in whatever way you think fitting (e.g. by using a nickname [which I wouldn't do, because a nickname is still a name in the magical sense], refering to her by function ["Mr. President", "Doctor", "baker" – think how many family names happened] or status ["unnamed one", "foreigner", "girl", "daughter", etc.]).

  2. If you want the reader to remain unaware that the character has no name or don't want the reader wondering about why the character has no name (because you want the reason hidden), then simply tell the story from the first person perspective (people don't think of themselves by name, but by pronoun, so you don't have to give a name in narration) and paraphrase problematic parts of dialog (so whenever you feel that avoiding the name makes your writing awkward, you just do something like: 'The lord called for me to step forward.' or 'The lord pointed at me and waved for me to step forward.' instead of 'The lord shouted: "Step forward, Sarah!").


The first-person narrator, as Lauren Ipsum's answer points out, readily lends itself to namelessness. The problem here would be that the first person narrator is usually invisible anyway. Explicitly thematising namelessness is perhaps best achieved by taking something conventionally visible and making it ostentatiously invisible.

Freud's Totem and Taboo discusses certain primitive prohibitions on saying names, as well as the forms of their survival in modern civilisation. It also considers how this kind of belief in the magical properties of language is parcelled out socially--how leaders have special powers but also suffer correlative prohibitions--sometimes even to the point where they become indistinguishable from sacrificial victims ... all of which seems relevant to your premise.


I'd give her a nickname of sorts, otherwise I think your going to have a lot of trouble with this (speaking from personal experience) You usually have to have at least some reference name for your character(s) especially your MC. I'm not really sure how helpful this is but I think you should consider giving her a nickname, perhaps something she calls herself. (unless she knows her real name, but this would only apply in thoughts or in the first person viewpoint.) If your story is in 3rd/2nd person note that it will be a bit harder to have her be the 'character with no name' so to speak. Hope this helps!

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    Or (this probably won't help AT ALL) you could just refer to your character as 'her'/she (third/second only) I happen to think this story would be easiest in first person since she would be referred to as me/I and others could call her 'girl' or whatnot :) Mar 23, 2016 at 4:29

If she's not of the same race/species of the people of the new town, she can be called by her town/planet/race.

"Greetings, Earthling."


You can avoid a formal name, but in doing so, you're making a statement, and any addressing of the character may simply turn it into their name.

Using a first person perspective for the main, non-invisible character is certainly doable. The narrator of Fight Club remains unnamed throughout the story, and has dialogue with various people. Perhaps the author's minimalist style should be considered though, as it likely helped remove the characters' need to address people by their names. The dialogue is punchy (heh) and sparing.

That leads into this thought though: names in real life almost always have meaning, and many names are chosen with intention. Look at the bible; every name has an actual meaning in the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages, and many of them give some foreshadowing to the character's role. Adam's name literally means "the man" or "the human", and has similar roots to the word "earth", of which he was made.

Back to Fight Club, one could argue that the narrator's namelessness not only helps veil the twist, but also speaks to the character himself, without explicitly using words. Fans and critics assign him a name or call him "the narrator", and the sequel does give him a name, but these were born out of convenience and legal necessity, respectively.

Maybe this helps you think about "the girl" or "the maiden" or whatever you want to call your main character, since, even if her Name isn't determined by the town leader, your readers are going to call her something, which in turn will have its own power behind it in speaking about the character.


What are children called BEFORE the leader names them? This is what your character will continue to be addressed as.


You could always have her decide on a secret name for herself, perhaps one that she wishes she had but never reveals to anyone?

That way, if the story is from her perspective, you could get away with referring to her as such (with constant reminders that it's not her "proper" name).


This goes along with the other comments about a public and private name but in a lot of cultures, people earn their names during rites of passages. IE they earn their 'true name' when they become an adult (by whatever standards of that culture). Perhaps only the 'adult' name maters? (this is your alternative to still making names have power)

There are a lot of short stories and novels from classical lit that don't have personal names. Either the narrator is never named or is called something like 'the traveler'. (Poe comes to mind). But here is the problem, if a name is just something you call a person then at some point, whatever a person is referred to eventually can be considered their name. Call someone 'you girl' enough times and it becomes her name.

So yes it can be done, but depending on the specific rules of your Name Magic it might be harder or easier to get away without a name.

And to give an example of how it works in another story. In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series a 'true name' allows control just like you wanted. For immortals it's just their name (though all have nicknames and often guard their true names). For mortals the true name is their birth name from their own lips because how they say it is a reflection of who they are. Mortal's true names change over time as how a person see's himself changes. So knowing the main character's name (Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden) doesn't give you control over Harry unless he tells you that name of his own free will.

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