In the novel I'm planning the human characters that inhabit the world are all clones of each other. Man and woman. They aren't given names when born, instead they are given serial numbers that also work like IDs. But given the fact that they still have diferent personalities and many even have different appearances due to tattoos, scars, dyed hairs, etc... How could I deal with them? How would they interact with each other? Aliases are a go, but as society grow numerous also does the necessity to be known in order to be recognized by his or her alias.

  • Is there a reason you can't use the serial numbers? They might sound strange as names, but after the first few uses the reader would adopt it just like any other identifier. Apr 14, 2017 at 4:28
  • A friend of mine had this story with I think 8 factions each of them having 16 important characters, all of them nameless. They were refered to by their role in their respective faction and while it was confusing at first, she managed to give each of her characters a strong enough personality that even if you don't remember the exact role of the character, you can recognize each one of them when he or she was interacting with others.
    – user19124
    Apr 14, 2017 at 8:21
  • The idea of speaking a series of disconnected numbers and letters everytime someone talks to someone isn't really nice to think of or visualize. But I guess I could work it out a nice socio-enviroment in wich it would fit. Maybe per culture they refrain from using all their alphanumerical designation using it in its entirety only when requested for precise identification. Apr 15, 2017 at 19:16

4 Answers 4


Your characters may not have names, but they have to have some identifiers.

Other examples in fiction:

  • Star Trek's Borg use designations which specify where each drone (individual) is in the hierarchy of its group, and where that group is attached to. Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix 01 means that this drone is the third most important (9 of 9 is the most) but her specific task is teritary to the lead drone (so not super critical), and her group is attached to a specific location (Unimatrix 01, the center of Borg "society").
  • Larry Niven's Kzinti are addressed by their family relationships and then jobs and have to earn a name.
  • In Ayn Rand's novella Anthem, individuals are called by a combination of a word plus a number, and are raised in collective groups. Each individual refers to him- or herself with plural pronouns.
  • In Ira Levin's This Perfect Day, people are using fewer and fewer names; there are something like four names for men and four for women when the story starts. The protagonist's actual name is a string of characters, but his nickname is "Chip."
  • I haven't read it, but in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the protagonist is "Offred," meaning of Fred, belonging to Fred. Handmaidens are all given designations like this.
  • In The Bees by Laline Paull, the characters (all actual bees) are from various groups named after flowers and then given a number; the protagonist is Flora 717.
  • In The Force Awakens, we learn that stormtroopers are stolen from their families as children and raised in groups, and given only numerical designations. John Boyega's character originally had the designation FN-2187; it's Poe Dameron who later gives him the name Finn.

People will come up with ways to address one another. You as the author need to figure out how to delineate your characters so the reader can distinguish them. Nicknames, shortened versions of lengthy alphanumeric strings, epithets like The Gunslinger, The Doctor, the man with the thistledown hair — just be consistent in how you address each individual, and you'll be fine.

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    Thank you very much. As SaberWriter said it is a great reading filled with great examples. Joyfilled itself if it was not an answer. Apr 15, 2017 at 19:09
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    Also from Star Wars, where model numbers are shortened to names: R2D2 = Artoo, C3-PO = Threepio. Apr 18, 2017 at 15:34
  • @KenMohnkern mmmm, yes and no. The characters are literally saying R2 and 3PO; the novelizations are writing out the alphanumerics. But you are correct in noting that the model numbers are being used as names for the sentient droids. Apr 18, 2017 at 15:52

A name is not actually an invariant property of a person or object. A name is an expression of the relationship between a person and another or between a person and an object. Thus the same person may be "mom", "grandma", "aunty", "Joan", "Joanie", "Joan Smith", "Mrs. Smith", "the woman in the green dress", "Smitty", "Junebug", and "234 782 189" in relationship to different people and institutions.

Pretty much every modern state assigns its citizens a serial number these days (in Canada we call it a Social Insurance Number), so a state which takes no interest in the subject;s names other than the serial number is not really so far from reality. But people will still acquire names based on other relationships. Names are fundamental to language and our relationships with the world. We can claim and project a name, and we often do, but people will assign a name to us for their own purposes, or select from the variety of names we project. The fact that that people in your story are not assigned a name by the state would actually make little difference to the process by which people assign names to things or accept the names that people claim for themselves.

  • In my story the idea of a state commonly known by us is completely destroyed. Its another planet. And this society is completely driven by a population of clones genetically modified to have increased selfless. Much like an anarchist utopy. Apr 15, 2017 at 19:27
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    @VictorMatheus So? If they have language, they will have names. Names are so fundamental to language that you can't have one without the other. And all stories are about people. All stories of regimented societies are the story of the person who throws the hammer, the one with a little too much alcohol in their blood-surrogate. Take away names and the first thing people will do is take them back. If you are stuck on this point, this is probably why. Characters tend to be stubborn sometimes, and refuse to let the author dehumanize them.
    – user16226
    Apr 15, 2017 at 19:44

If they have numbers, then the number is effectively a name. But human beings have a hard time remembering numbers. If your characters refer to each other as 1892463, 1984236, 3894361, and 4896324, the reader is going to have a hard time keeping track of them.

If it's hard to keep track in a story, that's probably because it would be hard to keep track in real life. Rather than ask, "How can I make this work in my story?", try asking, "How would this work in real life?" If your world was real, how would people refer to each other? If you can come up with something that would plausibly work in real life, it will probably work in the story.

I'd guess that in real life, people would give each other names of some sort. If not what we think of as names, they might call each other by job titles or relationships or physical descriptions. Just like we do today. ("Sarge", "Mom", "Shorty", etc.)

  • Or geography. Doesn't every WWII movie have a guy in the unit called "Brooklyn"? Apr 18, 2017 at 15:53
  • If there aren't a large number of characters to keep track of, I think the numbers could work. I agree with Jay that numbers such as 1892463 and 1984236 would get confusing. However, if there were a small number of characters, you could give the main characters different first digits, and you could include a few less random looking patterns such as double digits or consecutive numbers. For example, 5568443 and 4328789 probably wouldn't get mixed up as easily. Even hyphenating numbers could be a big help. For example, if a number was 34-98372, readers would just get used to the 34 chunk.
    – DLH
    Apr 18, 2017 at 16:37
  • Characters IN THE STORY may just use 1-2 numbers to refer to their close friends. Sorta like how on "Dark Matter" they use numbers to refer to each other (1-7, IIRC). Readers can probably track a small number of characters just by a unique number.
    – Jason K
    Apr 18, 2017 at 18:05
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    @JasonK Sure, people might abbreviate the numbers. Like call each other by just the last two digits. Ooh, maybe people call their closest friends by just one digit -- because that's only good for max ten people -- acquaintances or co-workers by two digits, people further out from their "circle" by three digits, etc.
    – Jay
    Apr 18, 2017 at 18:35

People will name themselves and one another. It seems to be more or less hardcoded into our DNA. Once you have a concept of yourself, you have a concept of something other than you, and the need for a label to distinguish the two emerges.

You could do worse than to check out the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which among other things spends quite a bit of time with groups of characters who are all physically identical, and formally known only by their ID numbers. They develop individual personalities, decorate their armour to distinguish themselves from one another, decorate themselves with tattoos and hairstyles, and they adopt nicknames - either chosen by themselves, or by their 'brothers'.

These nicknames often come from elements of the clone's personality or experiences. For example:

CT-5555 is known as "Fives" "Heavy" prefers heavy weaponry "Echo" tends to repeat orders for everyone "Dogma" believes what his superiors tell him, and toes the party line "Chatter" was a comms tech "Fixer" was a tech specialist


Your clones would likely be in a similar situation - If there's an easy pattern in a person's number, that might be referenced. If they show a particular interest or aptitude in some sphere of endeavour, that would give them a name. Some unusual experience could be referenced ("Crock" if someone once stepped on an alligator, for example).

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