True name

Last updated

A true name is a name of a thing or being that expresses, or is somehow identical to, its true nature. The notion that language, or some specific sacred language, refers to things by their true names has been central to philosophical study as well as various traditions of magic, religious invocation and mysticism (mantras) since antiquity. [1] [2]

Contents

Philosophical and religious contexts

The true name of the Egyptian sun god Ra was revealed to Isis through an elaborate trick. This gave Isis complete power over Ra and allowed her to put her son Horus on the throne. [3]

Socrates in Plato's Cratylus considers, without taking a position, the possibility whether names are "conventional" or "natural" natural being the "True name" ([τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ὄνομα]), that is, whether language is a system of arbitrary signs or whether words have an intrinsic relation to the things they signify [4] (this anti-conventionalist position is called Cratylism).

Hellenistic Judaism emphasized the divine nature of logos , later adopted by the Gospel of John. The true name of God plays a central role in Kabbalism (see Gematria, Temurah, YHWH [the tetragrammaton]) and to some extent in Sufism (see 100th name of God). The ancient Jews considered God's true name so potent that its invocation conferred upon the speaker tremendous power over His creations. To prevent abuse of this power, as well as to avoid blasphemy, the name of God was always taboo, and increasingly disused so that by the time of Jesus their High Priest was supposedly the only individual who spoke it aloud — and then only in the Holy of Holies upon the Day of Atonement. [5]

Also in a Biblical context, in the tale of Jacob's nocturnal wrestling with an anonymous angel, the angel refuses to reveal his own name to Jacob even after the angel's submission at dawn. Thereafter Jacob obtains a new name which signifies his successful struggle to God and man, and names the place to commemorate his surviving an encounter with the Divine. [6]

Chinese Daoist traditions such as the Three Sovereigns corpus emphasize the capacity of talismans, charts, and diagrams to depict the true forms (zhenxing 真形) and true names (zhenming 真名) of demons and spirits. These talismanic representations are considered to be windows into the metaphysical substance and immutable essence of things — that is, images of the eternal Dao without form. [7] The true form or name of a spirit inscribed on a talisman is legible only to supernatural beings, and gives a sort of temporary "control" over the entity whose name or form is possessed. [8]

Contemporary pre-industrial peoples guard secret names which are only used in solemn rituals. These names are never mentioned and kept from general knowledge. [9]

Folklore and literature

In Jewish tradition, when several children have died in a family the next that is born has no name given to it, but is referred to as "Alter" (Yiddish : אלטער, literally "old"), or Alterke, the view being that the Angel of Death, not knowing the name of the child, will not be able to seize it. When such a child attains the marriageable age, a new name, generally that of one of the Patriarchs, is given to it.

When captured by Polyphemus, Homer's Odysseus is careful not to reveal his name; when asked for it, Odysseus tells the giant that he is "Οὖτις", which means "nobody". [10] But later, having escaped after blinding Polyphemus and thinking himself beyond Polyphemus' power, Odysseus boastfully reveals his real name, an act of hubris that was to cause enormous problems later. Knowing his name, Polyphemus was able to call upon Odysseus the revenge of his father, the god Poseidon. Many later episodes of the Odyssey depict Odysseus facing the relentless hostility of Poseidon—which he could have avoided had he persisted in keeping his real name secret.

According to practises in folklore, referred to as 'the Law of Names'; knowledge of a true name allows one to affect another person or being magically. [11] It is stated that knowing someone's, or something's, true name therefore gives the person (who knows the true name) power over them. This effect is used in many tales, [12] such as in the German fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin : within Rumpelstiltskin and all its variants, the girl can free herself from the power of a supernatural helper who demands her child by learning its name. [13]

A legend of Saint Olaf recounts how a troll built a church for the saint at a fantastic speed and price, but the saint was able to free himself by learning the troll's name during a walk in the woods. [14] Similarly, the belief that children who were not baptised at birth were in particular danger of having the fairies kidnap them and leave changelings in their place may stem from their unnamed state. [15] In the Scandinavian variants of the ballad Earl Brand , the hero can defeat all his enemies until the heroine, running away with him, pleads with him by name to spare her youngest brother. [16]

In Scandinavian beliefs, more magical beasts, such as the Nix, could be defeated by calling their name. [17] For the same reason significant objects in Germanic mythology, which were considered to have some kind of intrinsic personality, had their own names too, for example the legendary Sword Balmung.

In the folklore of Northern England, there was the belief that a boggart should never be named, for when the boggart was given a name, it could not be reasoned with nor persuaded, but would become uncontrollable and destructive.

Giacomo Puccini used a similar theme in the opera Turandot . The plot turns on whether or not Princess Turandot could learn the name of her unwanted suitor. If she does, she could execute him; if she doesn't, she would have to marry him.

In cryptography

The term "true name" is sometimes used in cryptography and computer security to refer to a name that is assumed to uniquely identify a principal in a global namespace (for example, an X.500 or X.509 Distinguished name). This usage is often critical, with the implication that use of true names is difficult to enforce and unwise to rely on.[ citation needed ]

In fantasy where magic works by evoking true names, characters often go to great lengths to conceal their true names. In some settings, such as Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea , this is true for all beings. In others, as in Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away , it applies only to those of magical inclination, as where a wizard is revived from the dead only by another who found his name, and even then only with great difficulty. Finding a true name may require arcane procedures. In Earthsea, a wizard must listen for and give the hero his true name; this is performed in both Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan .

A character remembering their true name may be an important means of maintaining mastery of their own life. In Hayao Miyazaki's movie Spirited Away , the witch who runs the bathhouse, Yubaba, ensures loyalty by stealing the names of her subjects. For example, one of the witch's most loyal subjects, the spirit of the Kohaku River, has his name taken and is given a slave name: Haku. He forgets his name, and it is in this way 'taken' from him; he warns Chihiro Ogino against the dangers of forgetting her own name. She frees him when she recognises him and he then remembers and 'takes back' his name and is freed from the clutches of the witch.

In the cyberpunk genre following Vernor Vinge's 1981 True Names and the work of William Gibson, much of the plot involved interactions between people's virtual selves in cyberspace. Learning a fellow hacker's real-world name (i.e., their "true name") could allow you to turn them in to the government or otherwise blackmail them, conveying a kind of power that could be considered analogous to the equivalent concept of myth and legend.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>A Wizard of Earthsea</i> 1968 fantasy novel by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy novel written by American author Ursula K. Le Guin and first published by the small press Parnassus in 1968. It is regarded as a classic of children's literature and of fantasy, within which it is widely influential. The story is set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea and centers on a young mage named Ged, born in a village on the island of Gont. He displays great power while still a boy and joins a school of wizardry, where his prickly nature drives him into conflict with a fellow student. During a magical duel, Ged's spell goes awry and releases a shadow creature that attacks him. The novel follows Ged's journey as he seeks to be free of the creature.

<i>The Tombs of Atuan</i> Fantasy novel by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Tombs of Atuan is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published in the Winter 1970 issue of Worlds of Fantasy, and published as a book by Atheneum Books in 1971. It is the second book in the Earthsea series after A Wizard of Earthsea (1969). The Tombs of Atuan was a Newbery Honor Book in 1972.

Thaumaturgy is the purported capability of a magician to work magic or other paranormal events or a saint to perform miracles. It is sometimes translated into English as wonderworking. A practitioner of thaumaturgy is a "thaumaturge", "thaumaturgist", "thaumaturgus" or "miracle worker". A saint, who is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God, may be claimed to have performed miracles, which are events not explicable by natural or scientific laws.

<i>The Farthest Shore</i>

The Farthest Shore is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published by Atheneum in 1972. It is the third book in the series commonly called the Earthsea Cycle. As the next Earthsea novel, Tehanu, would not be released until 1990, The Farthest Shore is sometimes referred to as the final book in the so-called Earthsea trilogy, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea. The events of The Farthest Shore take place several decades after The Tombs of Atuan and continue the story of the wizard Ged.

<i>Tehanu</i> 1990 fantasy novel by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tehanu, initially subtitled The Last Book of Earthsea, is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, published by Atheneum in 1990. It is the fourth novel set in the fictional archipelago Earthsea, following almost twenty years after the first three Earthsea novels (1968–1972), and not the last, despite its subtitle. It won the annual Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

"The Rule of Names" is a short story by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, first published in the April 1964 issue of Fantastic, and reprinted in collections such as The Wind's Twelve Quarters. This story and "The Word of Unbinding" convey Le Guin's initial concepts for the Earthsea realm, most importantly its places and physical manifestation, but not most of the characters appearing in the novels, other than the dragon Yevaud. Both stories help explain the underpinnings of the Earthsea realm, in particular the importance of true names to magic.

Evocation 1. is the act of evoking ; 2. act of calling upon or summoning a spirit, demon, deity or other supernatural agents, in the Western mystery tradition. Comparable practices exist in many religions and magical traditions and may employ the use of mind-altering substances with and without uttered word formulas.

<i>The Changing Land</i>

The Changing Land is fantasy novel by American writer Roger Zelazny, first published in 1981. The novel resolves the storyline from the various Dilvish, the Damned, short stories. It was nominated for the Locus Award Elements of the story intentionally reflect the work of H. P. Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, and William Hope Hodgson, including the Hounds of Tindalos, here called the "Hounds of Thandalos", The House on the Borderland, and the appearance of the Old Gods.

<i>The Dying Earth</i>

The Dying Earth is a collection of fantasy short fiction by American writer Jack Vance, published by Hillman in 1950. Vance returned to the setting in 1965 and thereafter, making it the first book in the Dying Earth series. It is retitled Mazirian the Magician in its Vance Integral Edition (2005), after the second of six collected stories.

The Wizard is a type of magical character class in certain role-playing games, including role-playing video games. Wizards are considered to be spellcasters who wield powerful spells, but are often physically weak as a trade-off. Wizards are commonly confused with similar offensive spellcasting classes such as the Warlock and the Necromancer. However, a Wizard's power is based on the arcane and a Warlock or Necromancer's power is based on darkness or death. Some exceptions exist as to Necromancers being different than Wizards, as in Dungeons And Dragons, Necromancer is a subclass of Wizard. Wizards are primarily based on wizards from assorted fantasy literature. Other terms used to describe the classification include Mage, Magician, and Magic User.

Magic in the Greco-Roman world Overview of the study of magic in the Greco-Roman world.

The study of magic in the Greco-Roman world is a branch of the disciplines of classics, ancient history and religious studies. In classical antiquity, including the Hellenistic world of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, historians and archaeologists view the public and private rituals associated with religion as part of everyday life. Examples of this phenomenon are found in the various state and cult temples, Jewish synagogues, and churches. These were important hubs for ancient peoples, representing a connection between the heavenly realms and the earthly planes. This context of magic has become an academic study, especially in the last twenty years.

Magician (fantasy) Magicians appearing in fantasy fiction

A magician, also known as a enchanter/enchantress, mage, magic-user, sorcerer/sorceress, spell-caster, warlock, witch, or wizard, is someone who uses or practices magic derived from supernatural, occult, or arcane sources. Magicians are common figures in works of fantasy, such as fantasy literature and role-playing games, and enjoy a rich history in mythology, legends, fiction, and folklore.

<i>Master of the Five Magics</i>

Master of the Five Magics is a fantasy novel by Lyndon Hardy, first published in 1980. It is the first of a trilogy set in the same world; the second book is Secret of the Sixth Magic and the third Riddle of the Seven Realms. The books feature different characters, but each explores the same system of magic in successively more detail. It may be an early example of hard fantasy.

The Annals of the Chosen is a trilogy by Lawrence Watt-Evans.

In the universe of The Dresden Files, a series of fantasy/mystery novels written by Jim Butcher, each magical species has its own political and societal rules, and organizations. The human wizards depend on the White Council, while the vampires and faeries belong to various courts.

Magic in fiction Magic depicted in fictional stories

Magic in fiction is the endowment of characters or objects in works of fiction with powers that do not naturally occur in the real world.

Ged is the true name of a fictional character in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea realm. He is introduced in A Wizard of Earthsea, and plays both main and supporting roles in the subsequent Earthsea novels. In most of the Earthsea books he goes by the Hardic name Sparrowhawk.

Earthsea is a fictional world originally created by Ursula K. Le Guin for her short story "The Word of Unbinding", published in 1964. Earthsea became the setting for a further six books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea, first published in 1968, and continuing with The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. Nine short stories by Le Guin are also set in Earthsea; the earliest two in her 1975 collection of short stories The Wind's Twelve Quarters, five in Tales from Earthsea, and the final two in an illustrated collection in The Books of Earthsea. Collectively, the series is simply known as Earthsea.

References

Notes

  1. Magical Name (paganwiccan.about.com)
  2. Finding Your Wiccan Name (wicca-spirituality.com)
  3. Harris, Geraldine (1981). Gods & Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology. London, England: Eurobook Limited. pp. 24–25. ISBN   0-87226-907-8
  4. pp. 4 & 18, David Sedley, Plato's Cratylus, Cambridge University Press 2003.
  5. Richard Stuart Gordon, The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, pp. 480-1, Headline Book Publishing, London, 1993 ISBN   0-7472-3936-3
  6. Genesis 32:22-31
  7. Steavu, Dominic, "Paratextuality, Materiality, and Corporeality in Medieval Chinese Religions", .
  8. Steavu-Balint, Dominic, The Three Sovereigns Traditions: Talismans, Elixirs, and Meditation in Early Medieval China (Ph. D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 2010).
  9. Frazer, James, "Tabooed Words" in The Golden Bough, first volume abridged edition, (New York: Mentor, 1959), pages 235-246
  10. οὔτις and Οὖτις, Georg Autenrieth, A Homeric Dictionary, on Perseus
  11. Philip Martin, The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest, p 134, ISBN   0-87116-195-8
  12. Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p 260 W. W. Norton & company, London, New York, 2004 ISBN   0-393-05848-4
  13. Maria Tatar, p 128, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN   0-393-05163-3
  14. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads , v 1, p 95, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  15. K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature, p 115 University of Chicago Press, London, 1967
  16. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 91, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  17. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 95-6, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  18. Tatar, Maria (2004). The Annotated Brothers Grimm. London & New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 261. ISBN   0-393-05848-4.
  19. Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin. Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers. p. 27.
  20. Rothfuss, Patrick (27 March 2007). The Name of the Wind . DAW Books Hardcover. p.  662. ISBN   978-0-7564-0407-9.
  21. The spell
    • In the Cold Cereal Trilogy true names were used to control a person. Nimue (the Lady of the Lake) used it to freeze people.
    Trap the Soul is one such example, where knowledge of a true name allows the capture of even those immune to magic.
  22. The Language of Doctor Who. Rowman & Littlefield. May 2014. p. 126. ISBN   978-1-4422-3481-9 . Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  23. PeppersGhost. "[REDACTED PER PROTOCOL 4000-ESHU] - SCP Foundation". www.scp-wiki.net. Archived from the original on 2019-06-04. Retrieved 2018-10-11.

Sources