I’m currently working on a YA novel with a 16-year-old female protagonist. The story is told from her point of view, and I’ve been struggling with something that should be simple: how to let my readers know her name. It feels forced no matter how I try to do it. So I went to my bookshelf and started reading to see how other authors have handled the matter. I also paid attention to when these authors introduce their protagonists’ names. In my completely unscientific and limited research, I noticed some trends, which I’ve done my best to outline here.
Method 1: A secondary character says the protagonist’s name while speaking to the protagonist. Sometimes, that character is asking the protagonist a question.
A sampling of books that use this method:
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, page 3
Paper Towns by John Green, page 5
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, page 6
Divergent by Veronica Roth, page 10
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler, page 12
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, page 19
If I Stay by Gayle Forman, page 24
Method 2: The protagonist tells the reader his or her name by simply saying, “My name is ….” I should note that the protagonist isn’t introducing himself to another character within the text in these instances. He or she is directly addressing the reader.
Suzanne Collins blends methods 1 and 2 in The Hunger Games. On page 7, a character, Gale, addresses the protagonist by using a nickname, Catnip, and then the protagonist tells the readers her real name is Katniss.
Method 3: A variation of Method 2 in that the protagonist conveys his or her name by addressing the reader, but doesn’t flat out say, “My name is ….”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, page 15. The protagonist, Melinda, lets the readers know her name by describing the personality of her couch.
I would argue that Scott O’Dell blends methods 2 and 3 in Island of the Blue Dolphins. His protagonist explains her tribal name and then says to the reader on page 5, “My secret name is Karana.”
Then there are authors who introduce their protagonists’ names in ways that don’t fit any of these methods.
In Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King has a secondary character tell the reader the name of the protagonist in the prologue. In Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, the readers learn the protagonist’s name when he reads his name on a package address label. This happens on page 5 in the book.
I found it interesting that none of the books I sampled used the method that I used in my WIP. My protagonist introduced herself to a secondary character when she needed to come to his rescue and gain his trust. I also realized this scene didn’t happen until the fifth chapter. That’s a long time for my readers to stick with my story without knowing the protagonist’s name. So I decided to rework it.
Now, a secondary character introduces herself to my protagonist and, in return, my protagonist tells the secondary character her name. Only, she lies to that character, giving her an alias. Then she addresses the readers to tell them her real name and why she lied. I like how this new approach gives my readers some insight into her personality and hints at the circumstances she’ll need to overcome by the end of the book. Even though I’m not certain whether my method is sound or a beginner red flag, at least now the scene happens on page 4.