I've been RPing with some people lately and in several cases the question of identity and names came up. To be more specific, a character -Orion- went down to the kitchens and asked who had given Alec a plate of food. The person he asked responded with a "Who?" and Orion then had to give a description of what Alec looked like before the person recognized him. Then in another situation, a character, Jacob, has met a man named Tom. He also knows that his uncle's boyfriend is named Tom. The Tom that he has met is the same Tom of his Uncle, but he doesn't realize this because he just thinks that there are two people who are both named Tom.
Why do I bring this up? Because there seems to be a convention in stories where there is only one person named a particular name a lot of times. Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. It's a perfectly reasonable convention as it keeps the reader from becoming confused as to who is being talked about or in a particular scene. What I'm more aiming at is that everyone seems to know who that person is. There is rarely a "Who?"
In the first Role Play example mentioned, I was originally going to have the person answer the question knowing who Alec was. But then I remembered that this person probably doesn't know what Alec's name is, as he's probably never gotten it. So the question "Who?" was asked. To contrast this -because Eragon is always such a wonderful example- when Brom and Eragon were looking for Jeod the first person they talked to knew exactly who he was with out any further information. Just his name. At the very least there should have been a "Which Jeod?" or "I know a Jeod, he does such and such" a better one would have been "Who?" especially since they were in a large city. If they had been in a small village where everyone knows who everyone is, then the knowing who Jeod was would be more plausible.
What should have happened to Brom is the equivalent of a gather information check. That is he would have needed to go around to various places and asked about Jeod before finding the right person who knew about him. These things usually take from several hours to all night. It didn't need to be written out except for maybe, "After several hours of searching, Brom was able to find someone who knew who Jeod was."
Then there is my second example. Just because a person has the same name of someone you're talking about, or looking for doesn't mean that they are the same person. After all how many times have you gone "oh that's the same name as my friend so and so". My mother has two friends, one named Cathy and the other Kathy. Both sound alike so when my mother starts talking about one, I have to ask which one? Then there is the lovely phenomenon often found in classrooms were there is more than one person with the same name. Now that often gets confusing. Now, I'm not saying that you have to have multiple people with the same name, but instead remember that just because the person has the name that you're looking for doesn't mean that they're the same person. Unless they're a famous person -like a king or a lord or something like that- more than likely a person would think "Oh that's the same name as the person I'm looking for" if they aren't given any more description of the person.
Jacob has talked to Tom several times now and he still hasn't made the connection that the Tom that he's talking to is the same Tom that is dating his uncle. Why? Because there's not reason for him to. Tom hasn't indicated that he is anyway involved with his uncle and his uncle hasn't said anything to identify his Tom as the Tom that Jacob has talked to.
Names are important. But just like everything else they have to be used in a realistic manner that reflects how people use them in the real world. While most people wouldn't notice it, it does -at least to me- ad a bit more realism.