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As I begin to write a narrative (I haven't decided yet how long it should be), and as I develop the plot, I was wondering whether or not I should give the narrator a name. It was one of those random thoughts, but I thought it was interesting enough to pursue. I was wondering what could be gained, if anything, by omitting the narrator's name? Would it cause more harm than benefit?

I would plan to never have the narrator's name become relevant; there wouldn't be any specific plot element that describes the narrator's lack of name, or its importance.

  • Does your narrator simply "narrate" the story, talking-voice-from-the-sky style, or does the narrator have interactions with the characters in the story? – Riker Feb 19 '18 at 18:27
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I have no real answer, but a few questions that you can reflect upon yourself to help you deciding:

If the narrators' name is irrelevant, why not giving him a standard one? Like, "John".

If the narrators' lack of name has no importance to the plot, why is it important for you? Why should it be for the reader? Would the reader even notice it? Is the narrator involved into the plot or is he just a witness? Does he break the fourth wall? Does he talk, interacts with other people? How do these people adress to him?

If the story does not revolve around your narrator not having a name, do not circumnavigate too much around it: you risk to make a mystery of it and distract the reader from your real plot.

As I said I have no real answer because I have no idea of what you're writting, but to me it sounds more like an exercise in style that shows more about your erudition than your talent. What I mean is, as a reader, I don't care if your narrator has a name or if you wrote your whole story without the letter "e". If the plot is good, I'll read it anyways.

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Two good answers already, so I'll concentrate on the word "relevant".

If the narrator is relevant (someone who personally participated in the events of the story) but his name is not, there might be an advantage in preserving an air of mystery or avoiding distraction from the main characters, but there might also be a disadvantage if the reader was to think "who is telling us this?". If other characters interact with the narrator and he or she is not named, this is likely to become relevant whether the writer wants that or not - there would have to be a reason why they are never named.

If the narrator is less relevant (someone relating a story someone else told them) it's a case of what the writer thinks works best.

For a narrator who is irrelevant (most writing with an omniscient narrator, but not if omniscience is a character trait - for example a deity or pervading artificial intelligence - in which case the narrator becomes relevant) it would usually be best if they are not named.

I'll add a standard proviso about writing - there are rules, but if the writing is done well the rules themselves become less.. um.. relevant.

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This all depends on the approach you want to take with your narrator. Are you taking a more second person approach with the narrator being a member of the cast (but a side member), is the narrator describing the events without having direct relationship to himself, or is the narrator the protagonist?

H. G. Wells did the first approach quite well. The narrator in several of his books (War of the worlds, The Time Machine) feature a narrator who knows the main character (or is the main character in The War of the Worlds). In both stories the narrator is never named.

If you take an approach like this (either third person or second person) you have to decide whether or not to name the character. If it is first person, are the events more important than the character? Especially if you want an intense story, having an unnamed narrator can help keep the focus on events. If you want to take a second person approach, naming the narrator could be helpful if the character becomes important at all, but leaving him unnamed allows the author to focus more on the actual protagonist and makes the narrator feel more objective.

If you are taking a third person approach, the narrator is rarely named. I can't think of any examples of third person narrative in which the author names the narrator. This doesn't make too much sense considering in third person the narrator is suppose to be an objective story teller who isn't personally related to the story. In a third person narrative, I would find a named narrator distracting unless you wanted the story to be something like a historian chronicling it.

Not entirely related to your question, but there is the option to have a self referencing third person narrative who occasionally references himself. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy does this.

  • "In both stories the narrator is never named. In both stories the narrator is never named." — I sense a little bit of redundancy here. :-) – celtschk Feb 17 '18 at 11:30
  • @celtschk Interesting. I guess that doesn't count as full tautology, but it is probably worse. Thanks for pointing that out, I fixed it. – White Eagle Feb 18 '18 at 20:48
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Are you working with first person narration? Is the narrator's identity important? Is he the MC, or someone on the sidelines? Does anyone ever address the narrator in dialogue in a situation where it would make sense to use his name?

Here's some examples I can think of:

  • Roger Zelazny's "Amber Chronicles": the narrator is the MC. His identity is crucial to the plot, is in fact a plot-driving element. His name is significant.
  • Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes": the narrator is Dr. Watson, a side character. Nonetheless, Holmes's interaction with Watson is important. It wouldn't really work with Watson remaining unnamed.
  • H.G. Wells's "War of the Worlds": the narrator is nameless. His identity is not really important to the story, or to interactions he is having. Indeed, his lack of name serves to make him even more of the everyman.

So really, it depends on the story you want to tell, and how you want to tell it.

One thing I will say: a name grounds a character. It makes him an individual, with a past, connection to other people, etc. Without a name, the character is an amorphous someone from a crowd, who will disappear back into the crowd once the story is over. At least, that's how I usually feel about it as a reader. So it's up to you: what do you want your narrator to be?

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If you read Anthony Horowitz's 'Moriarty', you'll see that he very effectively leaves the character unnamed (this statement isn't exactly true but I don't want to spoil it for you, but you could google it for more info).

Essentially, you could give your character a name, but not their actual name.

  • I believe the question is relating to the narrator not the character. Are you saying the narrator is left unnamed or the protagonist? – White Eagle Feb 18 '18 at 20:49

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