Proper naming

Autumn or Samantha for my above question?

  • Samantha
  • Autumn
  • Samantha, as Autumn

0 voters

I have a female character that is working at a nightclub, and while working, she uses a disguise and goes under a different name.

I am kind of at a loss currently as to whether or not to use the fake name in that scene when writing it, or if I should just use her normal name and expect that the change should be obvious to the reader every time she is working there.

Here is an example:

The woman’s name is Samantha but when working, she is known as Autumn. When writing the scene, should I be calling her Samantha when she is doing non-conversational things? “Samantha brought drinks to the table.” Or should I refer to her as Autumn throughout the club scene (doing routine things, conversing with others, etc) until she takes off her disguise in the next scene?

I appreciate the advice and feedback in advance!

I’m certain there will be others more experienced who have comments, but here’s what I have done in similar circumstances:

If Autumn is working the bar, or working anything else, or any time she’s “Autumn”, I would use her name-Autumn-as such. It’s Sam’s alternate, for whatever reason, and to my way of thinking, she shouldn’t break character to reveal anything about herself. Of course, this is an ideal setting for someone “Autumn” has known from Samantha’s “real life” to pop in and recognize her. Now there’s a problem if Sam is operating undercover for whatever reason.

If Samantha, or Sam, is back in her “normal life”, I would use her proper name-Sam or Samantha-in those scenes. And then there’s the likelihood of someone from “Autumn’s” bar life who can pop in and confront her on a street or in a scene when she least needs the recognition. And on and on.

The more you write Autumn and Sam into their separate scenes, the more it will become normal to do so. If you’ve set up the reason for “Autumn” to be working the bar, then readers will follow along, I’m sure. The back and forth between names and their respective characters can be set off by a new scene or new chapter.

Edited to add that I’ve done this with one character while undercover investigating theft. If there’s more than one character with a name switch, I have no idea how I would handle that.

Experienced or not, this was the type of answer I was looking for. I started doing exactly what you described for a scene I was writing, and when I had my spouse read over it, he initially thought the duality of names could be a bit confusing for the reader. I didn’t think that was the case, but wasn’t sure and wanted a general consensus before I continued on. Thank you for your feedback, it is greatly appreciated! :mrgreen:

Is she the point of view character? If she’s not, does the point of view character know about her dual identity? Point being that you should refer to her by whatever name the point of view character would use.

Do you want the reader to know that Samantha and Autumn are the same person? I can think of several legitimate reasons why you might want to leave it unclear at first, though of course that risks even more confusion when you reveal the secret.


Hmm, well I will answer your questions in a way that makes the most sense (so bear with me lol). In certain scenes, she is the POV character, and in others she’s not. There’s a point where I am writing a scene in a nightclub that goes back and forth between perspectives (a his and hers, doing separate things within the scene, and they only come into contact for a few, brief, minutes.)

At first, the POV (that isn’t Samantha/Autumn) doesn’t know her identity. There’s a suggestion of familiarity, but nothing concrete. Yes, I do want the reader to know about Samantha’s alter ego (for lack of a better word) to be able to better relate to her plight and sense of duality. I am trying to provide a sense of hiding in plain sight, with an on-going sense of “does [insert other characters here] know it’s me?” to add an element of mystery. I hope that answers your question, and thank you for your feedback!

I get the sense that Samantha is a major character and that the reader will be spending quite a bit of time with her. If so, then in the scenes where she is the point of view character, you may want to base your naming on how she feels when she adopts this alternate identity.

A lot of this depends on who Sam is and why she is doing it. One type of character may be able to assume this other identity as smoothly and easily as putting on a different coat (e.g. The Talented Mr. Ripley), while another might be more conflicted and must consciously work harder at it. I am latching on to your comment about her “sense of duality” and thinking perhaps Sam falls into the latter group.

For example, in the first scene when Samantha ‘becomes’ Autumn, perhaps halfway through the scene she finds that to pull it off she must force herself to think of herself as Autumn. So instead of it being an authorial device, referring to her as Autumn becomes a device that Samantha herself rolls out.

Characters in disguises and masks are fun, they’re ripe with possibilities and awkward situations. They can be liberating for the characters, at least at first. Anything can happen. Maybe Samantha starts to like Autumn better than she likes Samantha. Or she finds that other people like her better when she’s Autumn, and that bugs her.

Whether the alternate identity angle is worthy of deep exploration all depends on Samantha’s role, what your story’s themes are, etc.


Thank you for your reply Jim!
Samantha is a main/major character of my story but doesn’t start off that way. The readers, in essence, will be getting well acquainted as time goes on. I understand your advice of basing her name on how she feels upon adopting her persona…and that’s actually what I started off doing before my spouse mentioned that doing so might confuse people. Motivations for doing so revolve around her family life, what is considered socially acceptable and stigma she could face if others (outside her job) found out about it. Samantha definitely falls into the second group of having to consciously work at it, but I appreciate you writing out that distinction (I honestly hadn’t considered the first possibility.)

I actually made it a point in the scene to reference the hardships that came with pretending to be someone else, so, in a way, I guess I did just as you suggested! :mrgreen: I do like the various scenarios and hilariously awkward situations that come with the whole disguise angle…and I guess I can say that I tend to take advantage of that. The exploration is, at first, going to touch on generic type things (the need for money, etc) but, later, will delve deeper as the story progresses.

Thank you again for your helpful words. It will help me to make this a [less confusing] more well-rounded story :slight_smile:

I would also consider changing one of the names. They are very similar, same length, same letters, same feel. The more different you make the two names, the easier it will be for the reader to parse it without working too hard. You want the reader to imagine two different personae here (even if they belong to the same character). ‘Samantha’ and ‘Autumn’ feel pretty similar. ‘Victoria’ and ‘Jane’ would invoke two separate ‘beings’ in their imaginations a bit more clearly.

So, pick any two names, but make them different, as different as possible, simply to give that added contrast to things.

Another idea? Use names that resonate subconsciously. If one person is named ‘Taylor’, no one consciously says to themselves ‘oh, stolen from Taylor Swift, huh?’, but what does happen is this subconsciously resonates with many people, coloring the picture they imagine in their head, without them even really knowing it.

If the other name is ‘Kim’, that may also subconsciously resonate. Even though no one thinks about that consciously (meaning it will not distract in your story) there is a recent history of a ‘Kim’ and a ‘Taylor’ being opposed to each other in popular media, creating an undercurrent that the reader will not even see consciously, making the two names ‘feel’ even more different than they actually are. And if your ‘Taylor’ and your ‘Kim’ look very physically different, that will help the reader imagine a difference between the two personae.

It’s very subtle, but this sort of thing works.