Who needs names? Plenty of stories, jokes, and even myths
eschew them entirely in a Nameless Narrative. If a character is "named", it's more than likely to be as their role in the story or the job they have. Sometimes, the "name" might be a unique and prominent feature to them that serves as a reminder of their basic description, such as "the one eyed man", or "the silver haired maiden".
Stylistically, it's very economical in terms of prose and narrator memory (many Nameless Narratives come from the Oral Tradition
) and at times elegant, distilling a character's essence down to their archetype.
The Nameless Narrative also works hand in hand with The Law of Conservation of Detail
and Nominal Importance
, allowing for a small named central cast and many nameless extras. This is usually because it's simply easier to remember the background characters this way than to give them all sprawling motivations and backstories
Compare Everyone Calls Him Barkeep
, No Name Given
, The Nameless
, The All-Concealing I
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Anime & Manga
- In Maoyuu Maou Yuusha the characters are referred to with by their titles and positions even by each other, such as Hero, Lady Knight, Demon King, Lone Winter King...
- Even though we already know their names (or perhaps because of it), Batman and The Joker are never referred to as such in The Killing Joke. Even the newspaper clippings only call them "Disfigured Homicidal Maniac" and "Bat-garbed Vigilante." This works well with one of the themes of the book, which is that the two of them have gotten so intimate with each other (no, not in that way—maybe) that there's no need for names.
- Red Ears: This gag comic has no recurring characters and thus many remain nameless.
- In the early days of America's Silent Movie industry, many audiences were made up of immigrants who could speak little if any English. Many films that weren't adapted from other media had characters named The Boy, The Girl, The Mother, etc. This allowed viewers to more easily identify with these characters. Even in the later years of the silent era, some filmmakers would occasionally use this trope, especially if they were trying to promote an aura of universality in the story:
- In F.W. Murnau's classic silent film Sunrise, the main characters are called the Man, the Wife, and the Woman From The City.
- Cecil B. DeMille often did this in his films.
- Ditto D.W. Griffith, e.g. in his 1916 epic Intolerance, where this trope is used to powerful effect, causing the characters to become allegorical and thus universal (although some of them are historical figures). The Mountain Girl, the Rhapsode, the Dear One, the Boy, Brown Eyes.
- Also typical for Charlie Chaplin throughout his silent film career.
- Also true of silent films from other countries. Notable Chinese film The Goddess, about the life of a Shanghai prostitute, does not give any names.
- Ditto Soviet silent cinema, here due also to the goal of portraying the collective experience of the workers. In Strike the only named character is the worker whose suicide precipitates the strike.
- In The Polar Express, the characters are not named (except for Billy, the last boy to get onboard). The others are referred to as Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and Know-it-All.
- Throughout Zombieland, the only person referred to by name is Bill Murray - everyone else is referred to by their home or destination. The girls' names are revealed at the end (though one is hard to catch), but the men never really have names.
- In Your Friends And Neighbors, none of the characters are referred to by name. In the credits, they're given placeholder rhyming names such as Cheri, Jerry and Barry.
- Only three characters get names in Curse of the Zodiac, and one of those names is only revealed in text just before the credits, which only list the actors, no character names or titles.
- In Exam, the main characters insist that they only go by pseudonyms based on their physical appearances (save for one character): White, Black, Blonde, Brown, Brunette, Dark, Deaf, and Chinese Woman. The other two characters are the Guard and the Invigilator.
- The film Blindness , like the book it's based on, does not name any characters, main or otherwise.
- In the Ryuhei Kitamura film Versus, none of the characters have names. The closest thing the main character has to a name is his prisoner number (KSC2-303).
- No characters are named in The Road. The main characters are referred as the man and the boy. Double subverted with an old tramp they meet at one point, who claims his name is Ely, before revealing it isn't, and that he doesn't want to tell them his real name.
- None of the characters in The Driver has a name, not even the three main characters. Ryan O'Neal is "The Driver", Bruce Dern is "The Detective", and Isabelle Adjani is "The Player".
- In Christopher Nolan's Following, only one character is referred by a name ("Cobb"), and that might be just a pseudonym. The main character alternately gives his name as Bill or Daniel; there's no indication which (if either) of these is his real name, and the credits just call him "the young man".
- None of the characters are named in the surprisingly-good-for-its-budget horror movie Wind Chill. This was done to make the story feel like an urban legend.
- No names are given in the 1971 film Two Lane Blacktop. The credits refer to the characters by their profession or some other identifying attribute, e.g. "The Driver" (James Taylor), "The Mechanic" (Dennis Wilson), "The Girl" (Laurie Bird), and "GTO" (Warren Oates).
- The ten strangers who make up the main cast of the movie Ten never properly introduce themselves to each other, so no names are ever spoken, and the credits refer to them by either their occupation or role in the story (e.g. The Medium or The Religious Fanatic). Unusually, a few minor characters who are solely The Voice do have full names that are All There in the Script. The novelization has an interesting way to deal with having largely nameless characters - each main character narrates one of the ten chapters of the book, so they all have slightly different, in-character ways of referring to the other nine.
- Nearly everyone in Eagles Gathered, with the exception of Bob the (maybe) angel. The other two main characters are referred to as "the golden boy" and "the silver girl;" the fans usually just call them Gold and Silver.
- Only two characters in Eraserhead are named: main character Henry and his fiancee Mary. Everyone else is named either by their relation to those two or where they live, such as Mary's Mother, The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, The Man in the Planet and the Baby. This, coupled by the general lack of dialogue and oppressive music gives the film an extremely disturbing and alien feel.
- Slacker, as a result of the film switching characters every five minutes. Names used in the end titles include "Should Have Stayed at the Bus Station", "Grocery Grabber of Death's Bounty" and "Tura Satana Look-Alike".
- In The Canterbury Tales, almost all the pilgims are unnamed and are identified solely by their occupation. The only pilgrims explicitly named in the work are the Prioress (Madame Eglantine), the Cook (Roger), the Reeve (Oswald), the Friar (Hubert), the Wife of Bath (Alisoun), and the Host (Harry Bailey).
- In H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, the Time Traveller and most of the people to whom he's relating his story are just identified by their role, such as the Doctor* and the Writer. Only one character in each time period has a name: Filby in the frame story and Weena in the future.
- The characters in José Saramago's Blindness are referred to by their roles or, ironically, physical descriptions (given the fact all of them are attacked by blindness).
- Saramago does this frequently, in whole or in part, for example in Seeing, Death with Interruptions, and (ironically) All the Names.
- The kid and his grandmother in Roald Dahl's The Witches.
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
- Everybody in The Tale of Genji is referred to by their titles.
- The narrator in Isaac Asimov's short story "Robot Visions" doesn't give his name and doesn't differentiate between the scientists working on a Time Travel project, saying that these things aren't necessary for his account.
- Surfacing by Margaret Atwood has a nameless narrator.
- Phantastes by George McDonald has very few names revealed
- Jessica Day George's "Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow" (based on "East of the Sun, West of the Moon") has the main character known only as 'Pika' (girl) or 'Lass' because her mother refused to name another girl, and only a mother can name the daughters. She's given a name by the white reindeer to protect her from trolls, but it isn't until late in the story that she reveals it. The prince in the story also remains nameless for the majority of the story, but mostly because he never did get a chance to tell the Lass his name.
- Stephen King's short story The Man Who Loved Flowers (published in the collection Night Shift).
- Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, and its film adaptation.
- E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime starts out only mentioning the names of real people who figure into the plot while the fictional protagonists remain nameless, so "Mother" meets Harry Houdini. About a third of the way through, the pattern is subverted when the fictional Coalhouse Walker Jr. shows up.
- There Is a Happy Land by Keith Waterhouse
- Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-tale Heart, which makes the old man's murderer's identity and relation to him ambiguous.
- Appears everywhere in The Heptameron. Most stories Hand Wave it as "I won't name this guy because I used to know him once" or "I forgot her name, but anyway." Titles of characters abound, and proper names are few.
- Several stories by Hans Christian Andersen.
- Kokoro by Natsume Soseki.
- Lucy Sweeney's Slummy Mummy column (and novel). The title character is called "Lucy" by others, but everyone else is named by description: Youngest Son and Husband on a Short Fuse, Alpha Mum and Alpha Mum's daughter, Smouldering Teacher, Celebrity Dad, and so on.
- Beachwalker doesn't have a single named character. Instead, the characters are named after their roles, or after figures from the protagonist's favorite childhood story.
- In Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall the main character is never mentioned by his name, only ever being referred to as he or him. He is Thomas Cromwell, ill-fated advisor to Henry VIII (is there any other kind?), but the narrator never addresses him as such.
- Skirted by The Incredible Journey - the two dogs and cat do have names, but they're only used when their owners are around. Considering most of the book is about them trying to find their owners, this amounts to the introductory and concluding chapters, with the rest of the book using species, breed, and age to distinguish them.
- In the first book of the The Southern Reach Trilogy, the main characters are forbidden to tell each other their names. Throughout the narrative, they are referred to only by their job titles: the psychologist, the biologist, the anthropologist, and the surveyor. The later books in the series reveal the characters' names, except for the biologist, who insists on being called by a nickname instead.
- Almost none of the characters in Ayreon albums are named; the exceptions are Merlin and a few characters with names based on the names of singers playing them.
- In the concept album The Wall, none of the characters except for Pink, the main character, have names.
- Conversely, the protagonist of The Downward Spiral, another concept album, is never referred to by any name of any sort.
- Many of Jesus's parables are like this: the "sower" (of seed); the "man which sowed good seed in his field", also known as "the householder"; the "man" who sowed a grain of mustard seed; the "woman" who leavened her meal; the "man" who found a treasure in his field; the "merchant" who sold everything for a pearl of great price; the "good Samaritan", and so on.
- In fact, a number of people in the main narrative fall under this.
- Referenced in Monty Python's Life of Brian, where Brian pretends to be a preacher, and says: "There was this man, and he had two servants..." A man from the audience asks what their names were.
- Older Than Dirt: Surprisingly for a culture that put such emphasis and value on names, Ancient Egypt has a few tales with no named characters, such as the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor (Old Kingdom), the Wax Crocodile (Middle Kingdom), and the Tale of the Doomed Prince (New Kingdom).
- The Wedding-Guest and the Ancient Mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner..
- The Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca's tragedy Blood Wedding leaves all but one character without an 'official' forename- they are denoted in the script by their archetype or role, for example 'The Mother' or 'The Bride'.
- Carl Orff's one-act opera Der Mond includes only one named character, who doesn't appear until the second half. In the Spiritual Successor, Die Kluge, none of the characters have names.
- In the Spanish children's play El Principe Que Todo Lo Aprendio De Los Libros (The Prince Who Learned Everything From Books) all of the characters are called only by their role ("The King", "The Ogre" etc.) The only seeming exception is the protagonist, Principe Azul, which literally means "Prince Blue"- however, Principe Azul is the Spanish equivalent of saying "Prince Charming" so it doesn't really count as a name either.
- About half of the characters in the fairy-tale-based Into the Woods are nameless (e.g. the two princes). Most of the rest are named because they are familiar fairy tale characters (Cinderella, Jack, Rapunzel, etc.); only Cinderella's stepsisters get somewhat gratuitous names (Florinda and Lucinda).
- Edmond by David Mamet features just two named characters in its sizable cast: the titular lead, and a waitress named Glenna.
- In Cirque du Soleil's KA, the characters are called the Twin Brother, Twin Sister, Counselor, Nursemaid, etc. This makes sense as the show has no real-language dialogue anyway.
- Two Richard Strauss operas have only one named character: Die Frau ohne Schatten (Barak) and Friedenstag (Maria).
- The 12 Angry Men are only known by their juror numbers.
- Castle Crashers gives names to none of its characters, only referring them by what they are (The "X" Knight, The Cyclops, The King, etc.)
- Fallen London is almost devoted to this trope. Characters with names other than "The Adjective Job Title" are limited to the Masters of the Bazaar (Mr Thing, where Thing is what they trade in), the dueling opponents in the Black Ribbon, and a few others (F.F. Gebrandt, Huffam, Esq., Madame Shoshana, Mrs Plenty) who have their own Twitter feeds and were thus grandfathered into the universe.
- This is plausibly true in-universe as well; the Traitor Empress has forbidden the use of her name, and it seems likely that, 30 years after the Fall, society has imitated this, with all remotely-fashionable individuals being referred to by role. All of those who have names are either on the margins of society or businesspeople (possibly aping the Masters rather than the Empress). Assuming you count semi-suicidal as being the margins of society.
- While the characters in Portal do have names, they never actually refer to each other or themselves by name except Cave Johnson and Caroline. Their names are only mentioned in subtitles and end credits.
- Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies is completely nameless, save for a few secondary pilots towards the end.
- Prince of Persia (2008) almost does it, if it were not for Elika and Ahriman. Every other character goes unnamed.
- None of the characters in Hotline Miami are given names of any sorts. While there are Fan Nicknames such as "Jacket" or "Richard" for the protagonist, officially he is never addressed by anything (although the developers have taken a liken to "Jacket" and other fan nicknames and have started referring to them as such). Subverted with the sequel, in which the characters actually have names though Jacket is still treated as a mystery.
- Every single character in Citizens Of Earth is named by their profession, such as Vice-President, Photojournalist, or Bodybuilder. Subverted in that once you recruit them, you can name them whatever you want.
- The NP Cs in Monster Hunter games never seem to have real names. As for you, despite whatever name you choose for yourself, you're never referred to as anything other as Hunter.
- In Juniper's Knot, neither character is given a name. They are identified as "boy" and "demon" or "fiend".
- Nobody has names in Dra Koi. There's the dragon, the dragonslayer, the protagonist's mother and the protagonist, who later becomes the hero by attacking the dragonslayer, which was just a suit of armor than now recognizes him as a worthy hero. It's metafiction, so names would just get in the way.
- HERO is a partial example — while there are a few named characters, some central and some not so much, there are also many major and minor characters known only by roles or titles.
- Hardly any of the characters in Gone with the Blastwave are named, and the two protagonists aren't among them. Furthermore, all the characters are Gas Mask Mooks wearing uniforms, so the emblems on their helmets are the only way they can be told apart.
- ''Piled High And Deeper" includes many named characters but the central semi-autobiographical grad student has no name.
- Pretty much all the recurring characters in xkcd are nameless: Black Hat Guy, Black Hat Guy's Female Counterpart/Girlfriend, That Weird Guy In The Beret, etc. Pretty much the only exception is Megan. (And that's assuming it's always the same Megan.)
- Averted in Erstwhile, in which several characters who were nameless in the original Brothers Grimm tales are given names.
- The zombie narrator of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name is this, mainly because he can't remember his name (or anything else about his past, for that matter). Hanna tries to get around the issue by randomly referring to the guy by different names, until one is found that actually sticks.
- Most of the anecdotes on Not Always Right, as the poster won't know the names of those involved, and it wouldn't add anything anyhow, so the names are usually a description - "Husband", "Wife", "Kid", "Mother", "Father", "Stoned Guy" - or just "Me", "Customer", "Cashier", "Manager".
- The two friends from Two Best Friends Play. Since they are in the same room talking to each after already staring up a game, it makes sense that they would have already said their names to each other. This is dropped in the second season when their names are revealed as Matt and Pat.
- Many Tex Avery cartoons feature one-time characters whom Avery never bothered to give a name. This includes many anonymous cats, dogs and mice and even the infamous wolf character who, despite being a recurring character always remained The Nameless.