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I'm writing a story about 5 characters without any recollection of their past and their journey to get their memories back.

I want to reveal their identity at the end of the story and I am struggling on what to name these characters in the meantime. Incidentally, their names are the main plot twist, so I need a placeholder name for all 5 that doesn't seem too out of place or to revealing

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  • do the 5 kind of wake up together, or do we follow one who meets a second and then a third and so on? Does your narration include anyone's thoughts? Feb 27 at 18:20

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The answers so far suggest having the narrator give the characters nicknames. I'd suggest going one step further and having the characters themselves give each other nicknames. Not only would this be more convenient for the readers, it would be more convenient for the characters themselves, as it gives them concrete names to refer to each other by.

What those nicknames should be is for you to come up with, based on the characters' identifying features, personality traits, and anything else that the other characters might know about them. For example:

  • The various Clone Troopers in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (who aren't amnesiac, but lack actual names) receive their nicknames in a variety of ways. One names himself "Cutup" after an insult from a superior officer; one is named "Fives" because his official designation is CT-5555; another is dubbed "Echo" because of his tendency to repeat what others say.
  • In Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors, the main characters (who also aren't amnesiac, but want to conceal their identities) give themselves nicknames based on the numbers they were assigned: 4 becomes Clover, 6 becomes June, etc.
  • One of my own stories has two major characters who are amnesiac for most of it; one is nicknamed "Cobra" on account of her snake tattoo, while the other names herself "Rei" (れい, meaning "zero"), symbolically reflecting how she feels she is "nothing" without her real identity.
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How do you usually refer to a character who either has no name (due to being too unimportant) or when you didn't tell the audience their name yet? You refer to them by a character trait that is immediately obvious to an observer. For example:

  • By age and gender: "The little girl", "The old man"
  • By ethnicity: "The Asian", "The Persian", "The Roman"
  • By profession: "The fisherman", "The soldier", "The astronaut"
  • By appearance: "The tall", "The blonde", "The fat"
  • By personality trait: "The posh", "The timid", "The angry"

When you don't want to reveal the names throughout the work, then you just keep doing that until the end of the story. In that case you probably want to think a lot about what moniker is both meaningful for your characters and convenient for referring to them unambiguously throughout your story (for example, if your story features several vikings, you probably shouldn't call one of the main characters "The viking"). I don't know your characters or your story, so this is something you need to figure out by yourself.

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I think the question isn't what, but how. Not what their names are going to be, but how they'll come to be.

Are they names each of them adopts for themself? Do they give nicknames to each other along the course of the story? Or are those names just what the protagonist invents in their own head, unknown to their friends and only used by the narrator?

Keep in mind that the choice of a name says something about the person who gave it. For example, if your protagonist names their friends Foureyes, Fatty, Candy and Hook, then your protagonist is going to come across as rather insensitive, even mean. Naming them Juno, Merlin, Artemis and Samson reveals someone with an interest in classics.

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What does the point of view character do to keep the others apart? Give nicknames? Think of descriptions? Do that. And use the sort of nickname or description the character would use.

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