Question: Deadnaming your characters

Question: To flashback or not to flashback?

Movie Review: The Sympathiser

Jason L.

Staff member
Full Member
Jun 22, 2022
Seminole, FL
I have a character whom we meet at the age of 17 whose name is Parker. For the first seven chapters, that's who he is. But now it's ten years later, he's started a new life and is using his middle name, Jonathan. He introduces himself as Jonny now. But, of course, I've now been calling him Parker for seven chapters. While it's only natural that initially, characters who know him will still think of him as Parker Bishop, it now starts to feel like I'm deadnaming him. For example:

(On first re-meeting): "I'm here for an appointment. I'm Jonny Bishop," Parker says.
"Parker?" I ask.
Parker turns his head and starts when he sees me. His jaw works once or twice. "I prefer Jon or Jonny."
I blink at him. But you're Parker! I want to say. Parker Bishop! "Okay."
The receptionist looks between us. "Do you two know each other?" she asks, her face alive with curiosity.
"Yes," I say, at the same moment that Parker says, "A long time ago."

There, it feels natural for Lance to still use Parker. He's shocked. Parker has not become Jonny for him. So how many chapters and self-corrections would it take for Lance to uncomfortably use the word Jon when describing his actions to the reader? To have him mentally keep deadnaming this character is starting to feel almost deliberately hurtful, and proof that Lance is too wrapped up in the memory of their baggage to connect with this character (which might be the case, but it's an avenue I think that would be distracting to the story).

Should the story then be about Parker/Jonny reclaiming the old identity and healing the intense trauma that he endured when people still called him that, or should he live the rest of his life under this new name? Because while many people knew him so little that they would be quick to change, the people he cares about the most, and who knew him the best will likely struggle with it for a while, and distract the reader.

Furthermore, this is First-Person POV. In the chapters where Parker/Jonny speaks, of course the reader can see the inner consistency. He's reinventing himself. But at the head of every chapter, I say who's speaking. Chapter 6, which was Parker's last POV chapter, starts like this, because it hasn't occured to him yet to start going by his middle name--but it's important to the plot that he's reinvented himself and made "Parker Bishop" extremely hard to track down:

Chapter 6​

Parker
It’s already pumpkin-spice season at the Bean Stop.

When we pick up in Chapter 8, however (after a Lance chapter), and meet Parker again, it's nine years later, and he calls himself this new name, and has for a while. But the reader doesn't know that. So I could call him Parker, like this:

Chapter 8​

Parker
“Today, I’m back in one of my favorite cities, Delhi!”
or this:


Chapter 8​

Jonny
“Today, I’m back in one of my favorite cities, Delhi!”
In which case, the reader will have several beats of, who the fuck is this clown?

Or, even this:

Chapter 8​

Parker Jonny
“Today, I’m back in one of my favorite cities, Delhi!”

So, Hive mind, what do you think I should do?
 
I have a character whom we meet at the age of 17 whose name is Parker. For the first seven chapters, that's who he is. But now it's ten years later, he's started a new life and is using his middle name, Jonathan. He introduces himself as Jonny now. But, of course, I've now been calling him Parker for seven chapters. While it's only natural that initially, characters who know him will still think of him as Parker Bishop, it now starts to feel like I'm deadnaming him. For example:



There, it feels natural for Lance to still use Parker. He's shocked. Parker has not become Jonny for him. So how many chapters and self-corrections would it take for Lance to uncomfortably use the word Jon when describing his actions to the reader? To have him mentally keep deadnaming this character is starting to feel almost deliberately hurtful, and proof that Lance is too wrapped up in the memory of their baggage to connect with this character (which might be the case, but it's an avenue I think that would be distracting to the story).

Should the story then be about Parker/Jonny reclaiming the old identity and healing the intense trauma that he endured when people still called him that, or should he live the rest of his life under this new name? Because while many people knew him so little that they would be quick to change, the people he cares about the most, and who knew him the best will likely struggle with it for a while, and distract the reader.

Furthermore, this is First-Person POV. In the chapters where Parker/Jonny speaks, of course the reader can see the inner consistency. He's reinventing himself. But at the head of every chapter, I say who's speaking. Chapter 6, which was Parker's last POV chapter, starts like this, because it hasn't occured to him yet to start going by his middle name--but it's important to the plot that he's reinvented himself and made "Parker Bishop" extremely hard to track down:


When we pick up in Chapter 8, however (after a Lance chapter), and meet Parker again, it's nine years later, and he calls himself this new name, and has for a while. But the reader doesn't know that. So I could call him Parker, like this:


or this:



In which case, the reader will have several beats of, who the fuck is this clown?

Or, even this:



So, Hive mind, what do you think I should do?
Last one, definitely! It says everything about his sense of identity.
 
Hi @Jason L.
My initial feeling is that it all depends on the POV - the name should be whoever the POV character sees him as.
Once he identifies as Jonny, then that should be his name from his POV.
But - the crossing out of the deadname and replacing it with the new identity says such a lot. I really like that.
Whatever you decide, as long as you're consistent, it ought to work.
 
Without seeing the text, I would go with the Parker Jonny idea. I think most readers will easily grasp the change of identity and be able to follow the story, so I would not worry too much about this except as it relates to the relationship with Lance. Seems like a growth opportunity for both of them, coming to terms with this and, hopefully, developing a transformed and healthier relationship.
 
I think you need to jackhammer it home. You are the one who writes with hammer and nails. You could make it a comic scene with another character while Lance is there so that he finally understands that he's being hurtful when he says Parker. (Your dialog example is much better.)

"Parker, as I live and breathe. We had English together"
"Hey, Chuck, I remember. Like Prince I go by a new name. I'm Johnny formerly known as Parker."
"Cool, say you want to get a coffee, Parker ? I'd love to catch up."
"Jonny"
"Wha?"
"It's Johnny. If you want to go to coffee with a Jonny, I'm your man. Parker's dead and buried in the past. Dont dig him up and I'll buy you a coffee."

At the end of the scene Lance gets it and tells him so.
For the chapter title maybe put. Parker Wants to be Called Jonny.
Then a few chapts with Jonny (Parker)
Finally just Jonny.

Make it the readers idea to call him Jonny instead of Parker and you're home free.
 
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What @Pamela Jo said. Also... you're going to have to have that conversation with yourself I reckon. Times I've changed char names (for various reasons) I've found it really tricky to get it cemented in my head. I also like the "Parker Jonny" option best.
 
I like Parker Jonny. If he changed his name for a personal reason, he will work very hard in his own head to embrace his new identity and be Jonny not Parker. He'd be hurt if you kept making him think of himself as Parker. If he changed his name just to go undetected, he might think of himself as Parker under a different guise, that one day he'll return to the name he identifies with. Either way, the Parker Jonny works.
Lance, I would say, will go through a few chapters fighting his reflexive urge to think of his pal as Parker. Parker. No, Jon. It's ok for a couple of chapters for him to get the name wrong in his head, but unless he is an over-conservative character, it would become grating for the reader because the Jonny POV chapters will be installing the Jonny identity in the readers' heads.
 

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Movie Review: The Sympathiser

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