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So far, I've written about 10,000 words or so and have yet to name the character. I've talked about the character a lot. But no name yet. He's the ONLY character so far. I'm pretty sure that I don't have to mention his name yet, coz my character has been alone for the entire time. Also, so far, I've used only First Person POV.

Is it awkward or uncomfortable for the reader not to know the name of my character?

Maybe I should've mentioned this too. I don't plan to keep him unnamed for the entire story. Or even for a significant amount. Right now, there's no reason for my character's name to be mentioned. Depending on the answer, I would've decided if the character HAD to have a name and would've found some way to insert it in.

  • Your title says "any of the characters' names," but your post is about one in particular. Which question are you asking? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 20 '16 at 14:06
  • Edited the question to reflect the post better. Thanks for pointing it out @LaurenIpsum – Sphoorthy Nutulapati Apr 20 '16 at 14:10
  • eh, better, but: 1) your post again says you have not yet introduced the character. Therefore it's still not quite accurate. 2) Is this the main character you haven't yet introduced? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 20 '16 at 15:32
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    "Is there any time limit...?" I'd say about 35 minutes. – Ken Mohnkern Apr 21 '16 at 12:50
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    depending on perspective or how other characters interact with them you can go for the entire thing. in Humanity has Declined the main character is just called The Heroine and quoting wikipedia she is "Generally referred to as either "I" (わたし Watashi) or "Ms. Sweets" (お菓子ちゃん Okashi-chan)" – Memor-X Apr 17 '17 at 23:46
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You can do just about anything, including leaving a character unnamed, as long as you do it well.

If we're in first-person POV, then leaving the character unnamed could be a way to invite the reader to identify with the character.

So, yeah, you can totally do it.

However, if you plan to reveal the character's name eventually, then it would probably be best to do so up front. Otherwise, when you finally get around to it 370 pages in, it may seem weird or jarring. Your reader might be all, "Wait...seriously? SIMONE? I didn't picture her as a 'Simone' at all. I was thinking more along the lines of a 'Janet.' Now I'm confused and distressed. I'm gonna to put this thing down and take a nap."

Potentially ok if done well: letting a character go nameless as creative choice.

Probably not so great: neglecting to mention a character's name because it hasn't come up.

  • In my mind, contrived name-drops are among the worst gimmicks a sloppy or lazy writer can use, in any media. Contrawise, they are also good gages of such a writer's skill when compared with the quality elsewhere in their work. Vis–à–vis if you are to reveal a name sooner rather than later, and if the POV of the narrator is not conducive to a nomination ex inducto, please do me the favor of introducing it in some manner that would conceivably, actually happen. – can-ned_food Apr 17 '17 at 6:27
  • Agree. Lots of things you might do in a story are good if done well and bad if done poorly. And "done well" usually means "advances some purpose in the story", while "done poorly" can mean "done for no discernible reason" or "done because it seemed like a cool idea to do something unconventional just for the sake of doing something unconventional". – Jay Apr 17 '17 at 17:14
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There are tons of beautiful stories out there with unnamed characters. Aimee Bender's collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is full of them. None of the characters in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," one of the best-known stories, are given names. In Aesop's Fables we don't learn the names of the hare or tortoise, or the ant or grasshopper.

You'll find plenty of precedence for unnamed characters in short fiction. I'm not as familiar with novels, but Cormac McCarthy's The Road does that. There must be other good examples.

If it works in your story, then go ahead boldly.

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    Yeah, there's plenty of precedent for this. Captain Nemo (literally "nobody"), Clint Eastwood's character in the "Dollars" trilogy. – Ethan Apr 21 '16 at 21:03
  • You forgot the Continental Op in Dashiel Hammet's books. Although, I would argue that the name of the hare was Hare, and the grasshopper was Grasshopper. It was their identity. – Thom Apr 22 '16 at 14:32
  • Sticking to human characters: the wicked witch, the mad hatter, the boy [who cried wolf], the princess [and the pea], etc. None are named, but they're identified by their station or role. (Thanks for the Hammet addition.) – Ken Mohnkern Apr 22 '16 at 19:18
  • @Ethan But “Nemo” was as good a moniker as anything, and therefore does not count as leaving the character nameless. – can-ned_food Apr 17 '17 at 6:32
  • "Captain Nemo" certainly sounds like a name and functions for pretty much all purposes like a name. Yes, there are characters in stories who are always referred to by a title or description, like "the grasshopper" or "Sarge" or "my mother". This works as long as that character is the only one to whom this description applies. "The hare" and "the tortoise" works when there is one hare and one tortoise, not so much if there were two hares. – Jay Apr 17 '17 at 17:08
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There may be a good reason to do this. But in general I'd say, don't.

We normally identify people by their names. Sometimes we use a title or capsule description, like "the mayor" or "Sally's brother", if we don't know the person's name or if the description is important or is how the person is addressed. Referring to a person regularly without using a name or title is just ... odd.

It's perfectly good and valid to do something odd in a story. But only if the point is to highlight that it is odd. If your hero has amnesia and doesn't know his own name, or if the point is that he is living in total isolation and so there is no one to address him by name, not mentioning his name could certainly highlight this. I recall reading a story many years ago -- right now I don't recall anything about it but this one sentence -- where a man is stranded somewhere for many years, and when he is finally found someone calls him by name, and the writer says, "He slowly realized that this was his name. It had been so long since he had heard it."

But without a good dramatic reason, if you're just doing it because you think it's cool to be unconventional or you haven't needed it so far or something, I wouldn't.

It would be especially jarring to the reader if this character is just "I" and "me" for half the story and then suddenly others refer to him as "Mr Miller" or whatever. If done wrong, the reader might be asking, "Miller? Who's that? Who's this new character who has been introduced and where did he come from?"

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Generally people read for details.

On 12 December 2014, Captain James D. Arkey sat in front of his computer and typed furiously. His mind began calculating and he squinted at the response code that appeared on his screen and slammed a fist down on his desk. "They couldn't have," Arkey yelled at empty office. "Those dirty rotten..." A thought occurred to him and he opened another shell window and connected to the DefCon server.

Contrast that to the following:

A person sat at a desk doing a thing. The person did some other things and yelled out at the walls, "They couldn't have!" The person slammed a fist on the desk the person was sitting at.

Details are the reason people read. Especially fiction.

Also, what's the reality of that? How many people do you not know their name (or even a handle/nickname/whatever) and yet you are interested in what they are doing?

I suggest you provide lots of details. Many amateurs think they are writing something mysteriously interesting because they are keeping a name mysterious. But it is rare that such non-detailed writing holds a reader's interest.

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    Should've mentioned it before. I've written in First Person POV so far. I agree with your answer though @SaberWriter. – Sphoorthy Nutulapati Apr 21 '16 at 12:35
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    I think you mean, "He did some other things and then yelled some words. The person ..." – Jay Apr 21 '16 at 14:04
  • @Jay you are right. I changed it to reflect your edit. :) – raddevus Apr 21 '16 at 15:43
  • IMHO the name in the more detailed of the two examples is not vital to the tale as given. It only provides more detail if we already know this “Captain James D. Arkey” — tantamount to a pronoun which directs the readers recollection to a body of qualities classified by some identity. – can-ned_food Apr 17 '17 at 6:31
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    @can-ned_food The date and the computer and the desk and the window aren't essential either. But all these things are details that add richness to the story. A name may not tell us anything about a person, but we don't "feel" that we know a person unless we know his name. And really, we do make assumptions about a person based on his or her name. If you tell me her name is "Bambi Desiree" I immediately have a very different mental picture than if you tell me her name is "Dr Ingrid Steinholtz". Maybe fairly and maybe not, but I do. – Jay Apr 17 '17 at 17:19
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If you intentionally do not want to reveal your character's name, this could be a very interesting way to write your story; it might become awkward to read, however, although less so if you're writing in first person: in this case the reader only learns the character's name once another character calls him out.

The character himself knows his name; he doesn't need to think about it every hour of the day; usually you'll need to introduce it for the reader, but it remains information that can be given very late in the story, if you're careful to keep the reading comfortable without it.

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When reading a story, the reader requires additional information to be connected in some way with information that came prior — if it is a continuous narrative.
With a discontinuous narrative, the reader will be looking for ways to fit the fragments of information together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Elsewise, they might as well be touring a museum of modern art.

Now, there is some confusion as to the function of ‘names’. Briefly, most names as we know and use them are simply abbreviated handles, or labels, for the purposes of swift and easy identification.
As some other answers noted, if your story was done from POV of the unnamed character, then there is less need for name — but that doesn't mean that it can't occur.
Are you in need of a recognizable, succinct, and semantically portable noun whereby to identify a personage to your readers?

A narration can continue with the absence of anything so long as that thing is not a necessary component thereof: if there is a place where something should occur, and it doesn't, then readers will notice.
“Is this person afraid to utter that name?”
“Did the writer forget that the main character hasn't been given a name yet?”

Once you do give something, it follows that such revelation should be connected with previous parts of the narration.
How exactly to maintain a chain in a narration, and when it is possible to sever or fragment that chain, depends on many things:

  • the intelligence, attentiveness, and recall of the reader
  • the intelligibility of the prose — if it is confusing and muddled, or otherwise difficult to read
  • the rewards gained by delving into the prose — if a reader sees evidence of profound investment in the writing, i.e. gaining insights by contemplating even terse or obscure writs, then they could be annoyed and disinterested but they won't think the writer inept or a hack

A ‘name’ as a part of the narrated events is exactly that; do not introduce them in any way that seems inexcusably contrived unless such is purposefully required — i.e. it only seemingly ex machina. If so, however, keep in mind that you ought be at a certain level of trust with your readers.

A ‘name’ used to conveniently identify a character or other personage to your readers serves a narrative function. Any such devices are usually referred to as, well, narrative devices.
The exact definition and optimal implementation of a narrative device varies, but they typically can be grouped into two original classes:

  • voice of the narrator
    This should be intuitive enough: Once upon a time, there was a certain woman. Let us refer to her as Alice, for that is — suitably enough — her given name.
    The narrator could be one of the persons featured in the story, it may be a layer that exists between the story and the reader, or it may be the author. It could be personified, or it could simply be a certain attitude and vocabulary conveyed by the choice of words and grammar.
  • premise or foundation of the story
    If something is given as a precept or axiom, not explored narratively, or otherwise taken for granted. It could be that you want to explore some strange and bizarre medical condition, and how it compares to so–called “normal life”, and the triumph of Love or whatever, but you don't really want to explore the clinical diagnoses or origins of the condition itself.
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It is easier to do this is your character is the narrator, since they will always refer to themselves as "I," and in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I don't remember ever learning the narrator's name. This also works best when the story is a very clean reader-self-insert like Japanese Light Novels, where the characters actions and description can fit practically anybody (although that is also bad writing for having a main character). Some video games, such as Half-Life, fall halfway between by giving their character no personality, but instead having the characters talk to you as if you were that character.

Additionally, in Aesop's fables or other (generally sci-fi or fantasy) stories, characters are often referred to physically (tortoise, haire) or by title (The Engineer, The First Mate). Because there is an infinite combination of words, you can go an infinite number of words without any mention of the character having a name.

OPINION: My practice, because I prefer third-person, is to give my characters very contrasting names based on their roles in the story. When I write first-person stories, I tend to give the character a name anyways just for storyboarding purposes.

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