One of my characters has two names, one she was given by her parents and is how the world/other characters know (of)her, another she likes and uses to "throw enemies off her scent"

Is it OK to refer to her by the second name til her true identity is revealed to one of the heroes?

For instance - Olivia walked alongside Peter... - where Olivia is actually the alias. Or...

Should I call her by her given name while the other characters call her by the alias - Beatrice walked alongside Peter... -

Which will be less confusing for the readers?

I've read works where both methods are used and never felt bothered by that. But then, I'm the kind of reader that reads the end of a novel first and isn't bothered by spoilers. So....

  • 1
    What pov are you writing in? In first person, the narrator can either be aware of the two names or not, leading to differing levels of narrator (and therefore reader) confusion. Limited third person can also be unaware and thereby confused. But from a third person omniscient vantage point, you the author can identify the subterfuge as it is happening. Oct 20, 2017 at 13:01
  • Third omniscient. I like to know what even the dog is thinking ;) Oct 20, 2017 at 13:03
  • I'm doing this essentially in my book (that is, using an alias) and I think it's fine and less confusing that trying to use both names concurrently. Shortly after the reveal there's a conversation where (in this case, my story) everyone agrees that she should just stick with the alias. but technically, everyone (that matters) knows it isn't her real names.
    – SFWriter
    Oct 20, 2017 at 14:07
  • I had to re-name some of my characters because I found that I was taking my love for anime and putting it into my writing, so my characters were all Japanese at one point. Oct 20, 2017 at 21:09
  • I would be confused really, unless you mention the other name like most authors whose work I have read use a third perspective. Like they would mention Olivia as the character and mention the other name.
    – Scarl
    Oct 22, 2017 at 6:14

2 Answers 2


In the long run, you shouldn't change a character's identity too often. In most cases, it's simply revealing a change of connection (either two characters are revealed to one, or one character is revealed to be two).

Assuming the audience is aware of the two identities AND Olivia/Beatrice is the POV character(s) AND that Olivia is always the alias:

  1. If Olivia was deliberately constructed for willing deception of Peter, then refer to the character as Beatrice. (Beatrice is a criminal con-artist and Peter is her mark.)

  2. If Olivia is an altered state of consciousness that is not willing deception of Peter, then Olivia and Beatrice are separate characters. When Olivia is in control, the character is Olivia. If Beatrice is in control, the character is Beatrice. (Beatrice suffers from Split personality, which manifests as Olivia.).

  3. If Rule 2 is True, and one state is aware of the other state, willing deception of Peter, treat as rule 1. (Beatrice/Olivia is a split personality. Beatrice is aware of this and pretending to be Olivia in order to deceive Peter, who believes he is talking to the Olivia persona.).

  4. If Olivia is an alias of Beatrice AND Beatrice was unaware of this fact before at the start of the story, then the Character is Olivia. (Olivia is revealed to be the long lost Princess Beatrice, raised by commoners who found her as a baby.)

  5. If Olivia is a consciously constructed identity on the part of Beatrice, designed by Beatrice to replace her current identity, then the character is Olivia. (Beatrice has fallen to the Dark Side. The Beatrice you knew is dead. Now I am only known as... OLIVIA dramatic music and lightning and thunder).

  6. Olivia is the legally changed name of the character formerly known as Beatrice, designed with no intention to deceive Peter, then the character's identity is the first identity given to the audience and remains constant. (Beatrice legally changed her name to Olivia to hide from her violent abusive ex-boyfriend and Peter would have no way of knowing this. If this is intended as a surprise for the reader later in the book: then she is Olivia, as the audience knows her. If this is immediately told to the audience in the opening moments of the story, than she is Beatrice, again, as the audience knows her. In either case, Peter may use either alternative identity as a nickname intended to be playful.)

  7. If Olivia is part of Beatrice's full name such that she is legally Beatrice Olivia Bannon AND she goes by her middle name out of preference, then the character is Olivia. (i.e. Beatrice "Olivia" Bannon but to my friends, I'm Olivia).

  • What if Beatrice/Olivia feels the need to deceive Peter because she's in danger and doesn't know who to trust yet? Oct 20, 2017 at 17:13
  • Loved the dramatic music, lightning and etc by the way ;) quite thrilling. Oct 20, 2017 at 17:15
  • @shieldedtulip That would be either 1 or 6, depending on the nature of the danger or trust. Let's say she is running from a mob boss and she recognizes Peter from the bosses club while in the process of running out, there is a significant likelihood he could be a threat, it would be 1 (her intent is to specifically fool Peter, because there is credible evidence Peter is specifically looking for her). If it's the case where anyone could be a threat, and there is no evidence that Peter is any more or less a threat than the next person she will meet, then it's 6.
    – hszmv
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:08
  • 1
    In both cases, I would say she is Beatrice. Of course, this all presumes that from the get go, the audience is privy to the fact that Olivia is a false persona. If for any length of time the audience is not to be made aware of this, then she is Olivia until definitively stated to the Audience. This change should happen exactly once from the Narrator's perspective and it should be explicitly noted. She can certainly continue to use the false alias, but once the audience knows, she must be referred to as Beatrice from then on.
    – hszmv
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:15

In my current story, a kind of spy girl has name A, but at various times goes by B, C, D, and E. I always refer to her as A in prose, and other characters call her by whatever alias she is using at the time.

"Nice to meet you, Betty," Joe said, extending a hand.

Alice took his hand and gave it firm single shake. "Likewise, Joe. Shall we get to work?"

I prefer this to reinforce for the reader that A is constantly aware she is playing a role and always deceiving everyone around her, even if she winds up in some intimate situation with one of them.

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