Aside anagrams, what are some other means to hide the true identity of an object or person? Anagrams are used to hide symbolisms and allegories throughout a movie, novel. What are some other means of achieving the same thing?


On method to use is changing the emphasis of pronunciation which can lead to a new spelling that obscures the actual name. From the movie 1989 Angel Heart the villain Louis Cyphre is actually Lucifer.

Another method is using an ironic nickname from a physical trait of the individual. Calling a fat man by Slim or a red haired person by the name Blue can be used to hide their actual identity in a story. This works well when the POV character is moving between cultures such as USA to Australia (where my examples are taken from.)

And you can just outright lie about it. If you introduce a character in your Victorian era setting named Henry Cabot, there is no reason he can't actually be Jack the Ripper or Spring-heeled Jack. But, if that fact were important to the story, it would be poor form to not provide clues in the characterization, beyond naming, that this character is more than they appear.


Anagrams and other wordplays to foreshadow twists regarding the identity of a character are rather implausible, in my opinion. Why would anyone with sinister intentions pick an alias which provides a clue to their true identity? Calling yourself "Guy Incognito" when a more innocuous name would suffice would be self-sabotage. There is no reason why any smart person would do that.

So, you have a character with a secret identity. You want to reveal their identity in a sudden plot twist somewhere in the second half of your story. And you want the reader to have an "aha" moment where they become aware that there was actually proof that you were planning that all along but they didn't notice.

When that's your intention, a good way to do that is to drop some hints that the character has something to hide:

  • Have them avoid answering certain questions. Like their past, how they acquired certain skills or possessions or the nature of their physical traits.
  • When they can not dodge these questions, have them lie about things they shouldn't have a reason to lie about.
  • Make them behave in ways which have no good explanation. They are in places where they have no business to be, leave with flimsy excuses, ask questions they shouldn't have a reason to ask or take actions which serve no apparent purpose.
  • Imply that they have knowledge, abilities or resources they should not have.
  • Have them act agitated or angry when anyone becomes inquisitive of any of the aforementioned irregularities.

And, of course, all of these apparent plot holes must suddenly make perfect sense when you reveal their true identity.

These hints can be very few and subtle, or they can be very frequent and obvious, depending on how hard you want to make if for your audience to see the twist coming. More hints create a greater suspension and desire to find out what's actually going on with the characters. But fewer hints can give the reveal a much better payoff.


Good suggestions so far, but some other possibilities include choosing a less used forename or family name (maternal rather than paternal), or an initial letter, or a description - for example "The Tall Guy" or "The Third Man" (I never thought I'd list those two films together...). It's also possible to play with synonyms for names or parts of names, or shortened versions - who'd have guessed Bob Forger was really Robert Smith?

You could even refer to the same character (or characteristics of a single character) by a completely different name depending how they are encountered - some examples include Doctor Jekyll / Mister Hyde and [The Narrator] / Tyler Durden.

Similar principles can be applied to places and objects - particularly when different characters might recognise them by a different name or in a different language - as that fine racing driver Mick Cobbler might tell us.

A lot of the alternative suggestions will be more satisfying (for both reader and writer) than an anagram - though there's a place for those depending on the audience. In all cases, the trick is going to be in the foreshadowing and eventual revelation, and in anticipating the audience reaction. Do you want them to say "Hah! I knew it!" or "I didn't see that one coming"?


A few Thoughts:

Using old or outmoded names will hold the same meaning, but will not be blatant. Alter the old words slightly, so jeans become dungarees, then are turned into dungars. Someone MIGHT recognize the symbolism, but need to be looking for it.

Use Titles or place names for people. A man becomes "Tex" because of where he's from, but no one picks up on his true name. The Duke of Cumberland has a proper name, but they are always discussed by their title. So the (fictitious) Duke of Fuzzyland is Theodore Whumshuttle, but if you don't know the nobles of Fuzzyland are Whumshuttles, then he can go around as Teddy and no one has a clue. If you called Charles Lindberg "Minnesota Lindberg" or Charles Little Falls, a lot of folks might not make the connection.

Nick-names and Middle names are surprisingly useful here. My wife's grandmother is Julia, but she goes by Elaine (her middle name) when she isn't going by her nick-name "Babs" (which has nothing to do with her real name, FYI).Eleanor Roosevelt's name was Anne, but preferred Eleanor. Maiden names are also good to hide females names (although in Eleanor's case, she married a 5th cousin with the same last name). But even a man can go by the last name of an ancestor, So I could go by "Wayne Long" (Wayne is my middle name and Long is my mother's maiden name, and I had a great uncle named Wayne Long).

Divine or infernal symbolism is always good. Satan can be "Lucifer" or can be light-bringer or Morningstar. Turn this to Lucy and it's almost unrecognizable. Gods with similar symbolisms are good, so find what something or someone embodies, then find a god that covers it. Give the person the same name. Wonder Woman, for example, is Greek/Roman-styled, and Diana is the Roman goddess of the hunt (Artemis is the Greek version). Thus Wonder Woman's name is Diana. Your could take it a step further, and call her Artemisia and have an extremely similar character but with a masking name.

Find historical figures that hold the same meaning. Make the references just obscure enough not to be obvious, but still capable of being figured out. If you want Nazi-like characters, pick a slightly less-known Nazi and use his first or last name. I Otto Skorzeny was a notorious Nazi, but isn't named Hitler, Himmler, or Goring, so people would be likely to miss the reference. Foreign references are good this way as well, so a French saint's name used for a saintly person will get missed by the average American, but won't be so obscure that someone can't figure it out. So St. Denis of Paris becomes Dennis Paris. Unless you Google it or are a saint buff, you wouldn't pick up on it.

  • PS I usually make a point of not reading all the other answers first, so I can see a few pieces of this are covered elsewhere.

A character is revealed by their thoughts, actions, and the responses of the other characters to them. If the character starts out in a venue where they are relatively unknown or have assumed a different identity or are just not able to express their true identity for some reason, then no one will know who they really are until something changes and they can be themselves.

Harry Potter starts out as an abused misfit pretty much scared of his own shadow until he gets that letter.

Often, when neighbors are asked, that serial killer was a model citizen and very nice.

Similarly, an object depends on its context for meaning. That old oil lamp is just a piece of junk until someone rubs it. A pen knife might be pretty boring until someone is in a situation where having it might be the difference between life and death.

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