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How do I present a nameless character in a 3rd person narrative who has never known his parents? And has never had extended human interaction with anyone long enough to even be called “Boy” or “Child.” What would the narrator call such a character (until he has a name)? Can anyone provide examples? The only thing I’ve thought up is “Nameless Boy” and other simple titles along those lines.

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    How does the boy think of himself? Even without human interaction, he has a sense of self. – Rasdashan Mar 12 at 1:25
  • What role is he fullfilling? Servant? Stable hand? Beggar? How does the reader first encounter him? – David Siegel Mar 12 at 1:40
  • @Rasdashan The boy doesn’t know how to speak yet, the only thought he has of himself is that he knows he is a person. This portion of the narrative is where the boy actually discovers his sense of self. – Luke Snell Mar 12 at 2:34
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    He could even be referred to simply as him. He will have heard people say ‘get him to clean the stalls’ and might think it his name – Rasdashan Mar 12 at 5:46
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    Simply "the boy" or "him" could be used. – Bella Swan Mar 12 at 6:24
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More than one author has struggled with the same problem before. There is a Russian children's story about a dog named 'Shoo' - the dog has been shooed so many times, that by the time it was adopted, it thought 'Shoo' was it's name.

The most famous example of what you're trying to do, and one you're no doubt familiar with, is Fantine, from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. 'Fantine' literally means 'little girl'. It has the 'infant' root + a feminine diminutive suffix. Like your character, Fantine grew up in the streets. She was called 'little girl' by people, so that became her name.

The conclusion seems to be, whatever your character is called in the brief interactions that he has with people - that becomes his name. This name can be relatively pleasant (e.g. Fantine) or relatively unpleasant (e.g. Shoo), as you see fit.

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I would agree with Bella Swan - you can just call him 'the boy' unless there are other characters present who would fit that description. The Road manages to get away with this beautifully for an entire novel. Granted, there are only really two characters throughout most of the book, but it could be done with a bit more effort in another setting.

I would recommend starting by using descriptors the first several times you speak of him, based upon how you first mentioned him. Call him "the brown-haired boy", "the small boy", "the boy in the corner", etc. so that the reader is reminded who you are speaking about. Once the reader understands that the boy is sticking around for at least a little while, you can transition to a more consistent and shorter tag, like "the boy".

Just my opinion; I am not an expert by any means.

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I find it difficult to keep referring to the "homeless street kid" as nameless if they have a role longer than a few paragraphs, as the "homeless street kid." Though you can throw in future references later on, as, "I had a sudden remembrance of that 'homeless street kid' back in London. He'd been trying to tell me..."

You can give them a simple name without much effort. The local butcher (another nameless character) yells at the "homeless street kid," "Tad, get out of here! No handouts until after hours." Then your kid has a name, and he could even look embarrassed saying, "I like tadpoles, so people call me Tad."

Still, there are plenty of nameless characters in fiction.

  • The jail guard brought me my supper of bread and water. No name required.
  • The dancers at the banquet mingled with the guests. No names required.
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"The one no one would talk to paused to watch with envy as the prettiest of the scullery maids flirted with Edvard, the doorkeep. With his unragged clothes and well-trimmed hair, Edvard was barely like a slave at all. Of course people were pleasant to Edvard. The one no one would talk to then hurried on, dragging the bucket from all the empty chamber pots, careful not to spill. There were beatings if he spilled, or if he took to long."

To expand on Galastel's point, when you don't have a name, the character will have some other way of identifying. That way of identifying will be an expression of how the character is referred to by others, or simply of his own self-concept.

How a character approaches the concept of self (which can be echoed in omniscient narration) is an opportunity to explore and expose that character's inner life.

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The important word here is "the."

All of us use "the" to reference people whose names we don't know. We'd never say "the nameless person." Instead, we talk about "the waiter" or "the bus driver" or "the woman with the red skirt" or "the kid doing cartwheels."

When we do this, we assume the person has a name, just not one we know. But think about how we refer to animals. Many animals have names. Animals who are commonly pets usually have names but often don't (feral cats, for instance). Or they might have a name we'll never know (an abandoned dog). Even wild animals often have names. It can be a traditional name, or a research one, like P-22.

We can refer to animals without using names and there is no difference between doing this with an animal that actually has a name vs one who doesn't. "The calico with the tipped ear," "the mare with the teenaged rider," "the lobster over there missing a claw."

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