Naming Conventions For NPCs

Morning, Everyone.

Got a quick inquiry for ya’ll. My friend and I are in the process of naming a bunch of characters we were talking about, and then I paused. It made me think back on all the stories I’ve read. About characters I love and adore, in traditional fiction and in Interactive Fiction.

And then I started to think. Names.

In a lot of stories, we have names that are unique. Ones that are difficult to find outside of fiction, created by the authors themselves. Then there are characters who use more common names.

And then I remember playing a game that gave me a warning about naming a character that had the same name as an NPC in the story, which made me pause. Which is what I want to talk about.

I understand the desire to have a unique name, to ensure names are different enough to not confuse the reader about which character is which. Then I went back and reread a lot of the stories I’ve already read up to this point, and realized, in most cases, the NPCs have names that are distinct enough to not confuse readers. A lot of them start with a different letter, to further ensure one character won’t be confused with another.

Which is awesome, in and of itself.

And in some games, the ROs, who have swappable genders, will have two different names that, in most cases, start with the same letter. Which I assume makes coding easier. And, in most cases, each of the ROs will have names that also start with a different letter. Like in Wayhaven, each of the ROs have two names, and each RO has a name that starts with a different letter.

In the Soul Stone series, two ROs start with an ‘M.’ Maybe a third RO is joining that, if what the second story is suggesting (but I’m not sure).

Naming characters is fascinating, especially if the names have meanings that tie into the story in some way or another. I love creating things, and I adore reading a good story.

However, what I would like to also discuss is people’s thoughts behind naming NPCs. Those who you romance and those you don’t. Growing up, my creative writing teacher always stressed the importance of making sure the spelling of a name, and the way it sounds, are different from one character to another to avoid confusion. Which is something I’ve followed for over a decade.

But is it really necessary? On my end, I’m fine with characters sharing the same first letter of their name as long as the name itself is distinct enough. Like having two characters named Duke and David. As long as it’s clear which one is being addressed, or being interacted with, I’m good.

Even Cat and Kat as two different characters would be okay for me, though I would be curious what’s going on there considering their names sound exactly the same.

What about the rest of you? What do you appreciate when it comes to naming characters? What have you seen done that you liked? That you disliked? Do you prefer all ROs to have names that are obviously different, or are you fine with them having similarities?

Also, what about the reader naming their character a name an NPC already has? Do you think that should be barred entirely? I’ve seen a few games where you had to select a name out of a pre-created list without the option to input a name of your own making. Those were interesting. And if your character does share a name with an NPC, what are ways you think would be cool to address it in the story itself?

Honestly, I played a game once where I intentionally gave my character the same name of an RO, even after being told I was sharing a name with them and was a bit disappointed there wasn’t any kind of dialogue or commentary about having the same name.

Even a, “Hey, we share a name. That’s cool.” would have been nice.

Or a, “Do you have a nickname or shall I go by mine?”

Because I understand the frustration of sharing a name with someone. Went through my childhood sharing my classes at school with four other Brittanys, and rollcall was fun.


“Here!” Five of us answered.

So, thoughts?


Despite the fact that I wouldn’t really consider the name I usually use to be particularly rare (though not exactly common either), I’ve never seen it as a character in any game. It’s been in one list that I’ve seen (though I don’t always look at the list before entering a name).

It can be hard to avoid, but I do get confused sometimes when characters have a similar name to the MC. I haven’t really been confused by similar sounding names of characters other than myself.

I do appreciate when the game is aware of what you entered. I have played one game that notices when your surname is the same as another character’s; it mentions that there’s no relation. (The CoG game The Hero Unmasked!) But you also see that character’s name before you choose your name. This may also be true of other games, but no other game I’ve played has a character surnamed Barnes.


I think names are not really that important as long as characters can be distinguished, which should be easy unless an author gives two characters the exact same name or manages to mix characters up themselves.

As for having the same name as an NPC… I can understand why an author wouldn’t want to waste time on the extra code, or simply prohibit it. After all, many people in real life don’t make a big deal out of sharing names. A bit of code to acknowledge it would be a fun bonus but not something I would really care about.

Personally, the only thing I consider important is that names look and sound good, but that’s just a matter of individual preference, so a name I hate might be loved by someone else, and that’s fine. It’s not a deal-breaker for me if a character in a book has a name I despise (unless I despise it because there’s someone I hate in real life with that name).


As one of maybe a dozen Toms in my year, I also know this… :sweat_smile: (And one of them had a surname only a couple of letters away from my own.)

In my own games, I generally try to keep major characters’ names unique, with text to indicate when a name is already used. That said, I have also played with the concept a little in my current WiP, as there are multiple minor characters called “Steve” (all of whom are introduced at the same time, of course), and who will comment if the MC is also called Steve, or otherwise has a name beginning with “Stev-”, “Stef-”, or “Step-”.


I do whatever I can to vary how character names sound - whether that’s avoiding names that start with the same letter or having varied numbers of syllables, or having different characters known by their surnames or titles. In general I avoid things like Duke and David and would definitely steer clear of, say, Devin and Dylan. That can be a little challenging if I’m doing something where characters are gender-swappable (in general these days I prefer a swappable character to have the same name rather than Emily/Emil etc, for ease of typing), but it’s quite fun to figure out what names work within those parameters.

Weirdly I’ve never encountered a character responding to my MC having the same name! (Maybe my MCs have particularly unusal names?) I know some games do it but I hadn’t really considered doing it myself.


I like it when the names are visually distinct.

I’m sure everybody’s seen those things like “Acocrdnig to rasaecrh olny the frsit and lsat lteters of a wrod mttaer…” kinds of memes where all the words in the sentence are mangled but it’s still pretty readable. That kind of thing is why I like it when games avoid using names that fit roughly the same visual pattern. Examples would be something like David/Darcy both being Dxxxx names or Mark/Mary both being Mxxx names.

Honestly, I think this is particularly important in IF because I imagine that a lot of your readers are going to be skimming the text because they’ve replayed the game several times and they’re hunting for a certain achievement or ending. Accordingly, I think it’s a good idea to keep the names visually distinct from one another unless there’s another consideration that overrides it. Twins getting stuck with uncomfortably similar names, Jack Jackson Sr/Jr/III/etc stuff, that kind of thing.


I think I might have actually played that one. That sounds very familiar, tho, for the life of me, I can’t remember what the story actually was. However, when the game is designed to be aware of something like that – it’s really nice.

This is actually a bit odd for me. Barnes. I had a few classmates growing up that had that surname, so the thought of it not being listed in any of the games, save a few, is really weird to me. Very interesting.

I have avoided names in games because of this very thing. Most names I’m okay with, but there are some names that trigger this deep-seated loathing in me that the very mention of a character with that name automatically makes me dislike them. And if it’s a RO, I won’t go for them because of how much I hate the name in question.

It’s really nice to see I’m not the only one that does this.

I actually had one other Brittany in my small town that shared the same last name with me. And the two of us have had ongoing issues for years due to this.

I don’t know why, but this is very amusing for me. The idea of meeting a group of people, they all have the same name, and they’re all talking at the same time…it’s overwhelming, a bit scary, and highly entertaining. All in one.

This is actually a really good idea, now that I’m thinking about this. Two characters could share the same name, but the way in which they’re addressed can be different. This is something I’ll have to look into.

I never thought about using census records for names, but it does make sense. Especially if the story takes place in an older setting where more modern names wouldn’t be all that current. Which is something my friend and I are actually working with.

Oh, I think I shall. I have quite a few stories regarding that.

And something important to remember. I read over that without thinking and didn’t even realize the sentence was managed until it was stated. The mind can piece these things together, so it is a good idea to ensure the names are different in some way. For me, having the second letter and the ending letter being different does help as well as the number of syllables in the name itself.

So Duke and David, for me, works – the second letter and the ending letter are different. And Duke is one syllable and David is two. However, this doesn’t always work for other people, so it’s something to take into consideration.

At the moment, I have two characters, Byron and Buck, who are romance options. For me, those are different enough to not confuse readers. But I may think about giving one of them a different name, now that I know it can be confusing to some readers.


I’m actually not sure how common it is. It’s not my name, just one I use frequently for text games. It sounds rather English to me, and I live in the US.

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I can’t say how common Barnes is as a name, first or last, but it’s one I’m familiar with. The family in my town is rather well known. One being a teacher.

Another surname that’s known around my town would be Prince, which relates to a doctor that’s been in town for 30+ years.

Which is a good point to keep in mind, relating to writing. Every town and city is likely to have families that most people have, at the very least, heard of.

And in some families, the sons are often named after their father or an equally important member of the family dynasty.

Hm, I think that may not be quite true in large cities like Los Angeles, where I live. When I lived in the suburbs, everyone knew the family of plumbers. But that was mostly because there was a family of plumbers. There wasn’t an entire family in any other business. At least that I knew of.

(Also, California is so urban that the “suburbs” of Los Angeles are actually entirely different cities nearby)

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Regarding these, while I do try to keep the RO names obviously different, I did run into issues with an RO who shares a very similar name with his sibling (specifically the first and last letters). I had assumed that the names were different enough, and that the context of the story made it obvious, but at least one reader did seem to think they were the same person… :sweat_smile:

Also, there’s a character who has the exact same name as the MC, but that’s a bit of a spoiler… I decided pretty early on to have that character go by their middle name most of the time, simply because the alternative was just too confusing.

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That’s actually pretty cool. And, yeah, the larger the city in question is, the more people there will be. I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but I’m familiar with cities like St. Louis and Springfield. And while there might not be a family that’s well known, the ones most people are aware of are those in positions of power.

Mayor-esque positions, council seats for making decisions about the “best thing” to do for the city.

People in charge. Or maybe the person running a really efficient police station might be a person that’s more well known in an area of a city.

TBH I didn’t even know who the mayor of Los Angeles was. Though after I looked it up, I remembered that that name is one I know as being some important guy.

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Well, if I wasn’t sure about changing one of the names, I am now. The last thing I want is there to be confusion involved that’s unintentional. Now, intentionally naming two characters similar names just for the added twist of sometimes having people get them confused, that’s actually a fun idea.

Especially if they’re twins.

This would be an interesting way to address a major character sharing the same name as the MC. The other character could opt to go by their middle name instead of their first name, or by a nickname.

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This made me smile, I’ll admit. The idea of calling someone “some important guy” is something I find a bit humorous.

Don’t worry, I don’t know who the mayor of my small town is. Or any of the key players in town are outside of a few I know because I went to school with their kids.

I’m a hermit. And keeping track of some random people is too much of a headache for me to deal with. I’d rather build worlds, write, massage, and watch scary movies at 3AM.

For me personally I’m not bothered by characters whose names start with the same letters, especially if they’re related in some way. I tend to be more bothered by names that end with the same sound, but I’m the only person I know who has that problem. I just don’t like the way it sounds when I list them. Like if I were to say Riley, Lucy and Chelsea went to the store. Even though its obvious that these are all different people the fact that they all end with the same “ee” sound annoys me for some reason. Just a personal pet peeve. In general I don’t think it matters if names start with the same letter as long as there is something obvious to differentiate the characters. I also personally don’t mind if characters have incredibly similar names if its an inside joke because as you mentioned people have the same or similar names in real life, so I don’t mind playing into the humous side of it. I do always feel bad for twins who have similar names in real life though, like isn’t it bad enough they have to share a face, now they’re stuck with similar names too. In fiction its funny though.

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