I know this is similar to How to Handle a Character When She Is Lying About Her Name but the situation is slightly different in where my problem lies.

I have a character who is introduced as Tabatha to the reader. However she changes her name at one point and the reader does not know. Other characters are constantly referring to a person called "Maria" and the reader never 'sees' her in any scene. Later it is revealed that Maria is actually Tabatha (both to the readers and the characters who know her as Tabatha).

It's at this point where I run into my problem. She's embraced the new name "Maria" and she spends the bulk of the remainder of the narrative around characters who refer to her as such. However now the reader knows she is Tabatha and for at least half of the book (if not more) the narrator has called her this when she is in scene. But after the revelation, it seems fitting and appropriate for the narrator to call her Maria from this point on until she makes the conscious decision to change her name back.

That seems to be the right path but wanted to make sure it made senses

Also I want to be consistent considering I have another character who is often referred to by two different names. Only that scenario is different. I have a character who is almost always referred to as Mrs. Coles by the narrator because for the most part she is only around teenage characters who call her that. But during the rare scenes where she is around only other adults who call her by her first name "Anita" the narrator refers to her as such and typically each scene she's introduced by her full name and then it's subsequently shortened to either Mrs. Coles or Anita depending on the scene.

With that in mind, it almost seems that with my Tabatha character, if she is in a scene interacting mostly with people who ONLY refer to her as Tabatha that the narrator should adjust accordingly and when she is primarily with people who ONLY refer to her as Maria the narrator should adjust accordingly and just like with Anita Coles, at the beginning of each scene I introduce her in a way that gives both her names (not sure how I would do that) and then "shorten" it to whatever is appropriate for the scene.

For some reason though, that logic seems less appropriate with the Tabatha character than it does with the Anita Coles character (perhaps because it's easier to introduce Anita Coles to a scene by her full name and just shorten it).

I hope that's enough information to help with figuring this out.

4 Answers 4


You have a few options, all of which are (in my view) perfectly reasonable:

  • If you're using an intimate narrative style (with access to only one character's thoughts at a time):

    • Simply call her whatever the character in question considers her to be. If your viewpoint character still thinks of her as Tabatha, call her Tabatha even if everyone else calls her Maria.
    • Show events from the perspective of a character who transitions from thinking of her as Tabatha to thinking of her as Maria, and follow this transition (such that the reader goes through it too).
    • Switch viewpoints, such that when she's being referred to as Maria, she's viewed by a character who sees her as Tabatha, and vice versa, such that the connection is evident.
    • The opposite of the above. Have her viewed by someone who thinks of her as the thing she's being called. Done sloppily, this could be confusing (and make it seem like different people), but I think as long as you're conscious of this risk, it should be fairly easy to make it clear from circumstance that they're the same person.
  • If you're using a less intimate style (with the freedom to communicate things that the characters don't know; think LOTR) or a semi-intimate style (where you can communicate things that they know, but which aren't immediately on their mind; think Harry Potter), you may be able to simply explain. After this, it shouldn't matter what name you call her, as long as you're consistent. You establish the change has occured, then write confidently in the knowledge that the reader now understands this.

Word on the street was that Tabatha, now calling herself "Maria", would be coming to the party too. Exactly what had stopped Maria from attending the last three parties was anybody's guess, and a subject of hot debate among all but the very quietest members of the group.


Word on the street was that Tabatha, now calling herself "Maria", would be coming to the party too. Exactly what had stopped Tabatha from attending the last three parties was anybody's guess, and a subject of hot debate among all but the very quietest members of the group.

  • If you're trying to capture the surface level, and express her as a chameleonic character, it might be appropriate to switch the name around according to who she's speaking to (or even arbitrarily). Doing so will (I think) do one of two things (depending on how consistently you characterise her):
    • If her behavior is very consistent, it will give the impression that her name is irrelevant (she's still the same person underneath). This is a little like how religious figures such as God and Satan have many names - it communicates the idea that their identity is deeper than a name, and though names may change their identity will not.
    • If her behavior is noticeably different depending on who she speaks to, it will give the impression that she has no true nature, or that her true nature is so obscured as to be hidden even from the reader.

Ultimately, it depends on your stylistic choices, and the impression you're trying to give.


If the narrator has respect for Maria (and respect for her decision to change her name), they will probably refer to her in the way she wishes to be referred. The readers will be able to keep up as long as you explain it sufficiently and stay consistent after the reveal.

If Maria has strong negative feelings towards her old name, calling her by that name is making the choice to refer to her in a way which makes her uncomfortable. An extreme example would be if your character is transgender. In that case, switching back and forth between names would be not only jarring but insensitive to the character themselves. Even if she simply prefers the new one, you're making the statement that her preference does not matter (to the narrator, at least).

This is good though, because it gives you room to say something about each character that refers to her. For example, one character may embrace the new name and make an effort to adhere to it. But another characters might adamantly stick to the old name, or ignorantly fail to remember the new one time and time again (much to Maria's chagrin).


There are too many variables to answer this question. Although, I fear you may be over-thinking the process. On the face of it pronoun the tag in narration should remain consistent.

The problem is not unique. Off the top of my head, my last MC is referred to by at least 6 different names during the story.

Think of all the names that you are called: Christian name, surname, petname, nickname (family, work, friends).

If 'Maria' never appears in a scene. There's no need for the narrator to mention her name.

There is more to your choice than cosmetic style or clarity. i.e. If the narrator is reliable they must tell the truth. If the narrator changes a character name then change may be mistake for a device, the implication may be the character suffers from a multi-personality disorder.


I have a character (say Lucy) that in various circles is always pretending to be someone else with another name: She is Mary, Lisa, Brittany, Virginia.

The narrator always calls her Lucy. She introduces herself as (e.g.) Mary, people call her Mary, she responds to Mary.

"Mary, you have to tell us, how was Paris?"

Lucy winced. "Cold and wet! You don't want to be in Paris this time of year! At least the pastry shop next door wasn't crowded, I think I spent every minute resisting it. With failures. Many, many failures!"

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