The Rise of the Nameless Narrator

6363562459_7399ee3c3e_mOne of the hardest tasks facing a fictional writer is finding appropriate names for characters. Before the advent of the personal computer and the internet, authors often resorted to running their fingers down tattered telephone books. Today, many modern authors on the lookout for the perfect characteronym hold online naming contests in which they invite the international net community to name their figures.

When these and other methods fail, some authors simply decide to leave their literary brainchildren completely nameless. Although this strategy may at first seem odd, there are in fact many excellent examples of works in which the main character remains stubbornly and utterly nameless. As classics like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Philip Roth’s “Everyman” demonstrate, in the hands of a skillful writer, a figure’s namelessness may either encourage readers to identify with the main character’s experiences or create a sense of emotional distance.

This versatility may help to explain why nameless narration appears to be trending in the 2015 book market. As Sam Sacks, of The New Yorker, quips, this year we have seen a veritable “epidemic of namelessness”.