My Writing, Writing group

How I refer to my protagonists’ parent in my novel

One issue I’ve come across during the course of my revision for Nephilim, is how I refer to my protagonists parent. I use both ‘mum,’ and her given name ‘Deborah,’ during the course of the novel.

Now granted, I never thought this was a problem at first. It wasn’t until someone over at Scribophile (circa 2016) pointed out that since I was using 3rd person limited POV, it was strange that a teenager would refer to their parent by their first name. And it was also confusing, switching between ‘mum,’ and ‘Deborah,’ so often.

So I changed it to just ‘mum,’ because hey, that advice sounds decent right? But the problem was, I wasn’t happy with how the novel sounded using just ‘mum.’ So I changed it back, and ignored further comments on it.

I think choosing how to refer to your parents in your novel depends a little on what POV you’re using.

For first person, it’s probably more common to use ‘my mum,’ since we’re right in the head of the protagonist. We never use our parents names when thinking about them in our heads, (or maybe some people do?) so why should you use the names in a first person POV novel?

For third person however, it’s a little more difficult. It makes sense that the protagonist would refer to their parent as ‘mum,’ or ‘my mum,’ since they’re the narrator, but despite the focused narration, we’re not right in the characters head. There’s room for a little space. But using just ‘mum,’ in this case can get very repetitive, very quickly and for me, it takes away from their character.

This is where my issue came into play. Using just ‘mum,’ or just ‘Deborah,’ didn’t work for me. And since my various wonderful beta readers bar one never mentioned the interchanging name, I never really thought about it again. Until now.

I’m revising draft four, and I want to be more in depth. The issue with the parents title popped into my head as I read through chapter four. Was there an answer to this question? Was there an actual rule, like there is for grammar?

There isn’t. Mostly, it’s just debate. And to be honest I think it all comes down to personal preference. So here’s how I ended up using both.

When I’m using plain narrative, or inner thought, I’ll use ‘mum.’

‘(Aly) pushed past her mum as she walked further into the house…’

‘Her mum had lied…’

For dialogue and action tags, or places where her mum actively does something, I’ll use ‘Deborah.’

‘Deborah marched forward, clenching her phone tight in one hand…’

‘Deborah pulled Alys’ cardigan off herself. ‘Oh my poor baby…’

The result is a mix of both titles, which ends up reading a little like this:

Aly knew her mum didn’t like him that much, but she always reserved her opinion for when the two were alone. Her mum liked civility. 

‘Just be careful,’ Deborah warned. 


‘Seriously Aly.’ Deborah gripped Alys’ wrist as she put on her jacket. 

Alys eyebrows creased at her mums’ words. 

It works for me, and I believe it works for my novel. This way, I can maintain closeness with my narrator through the use of ‘mum,’ but also keep some personality and individuality for ‘Deborah.’ She’s a character, not just a title.

How have you referred to your protagonist’s parents in your novel?


Good thoughts and happy writing!



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