true names

In Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, young Will Stanton is warned against revealing his true name, as it can be used to conjure against him by the enemy.

Sound familiar? The Eragon and Earthsea series get a lot of mileage from the discovery and use of true names. In the Harry Potter books they call Voldemort “You-Know-Who” to avoid inadvertently attracting his attention. Without any research we can trace this well-worn fantasy trope back at least as far as Rumpelstiltskin, wherein the gold-spinning troll will relinquish the Queen’s firstborn child only if she can guess his name.

Christenings and other infant naming ceremonies still radiate the aura of our old beliefs in the sacred power of names. Now that I’m realizing how important names are in my sons’ favorite books, I sort of wish we’d bestowed them with secret names, as well as their legal ones. Maybe carved a rune-tablet or medallion to present to each of them at puberty’s onset, some solemn avowal of their special destiny in the world.

I suppose we could always invent such things retrospectively. Solicit their creative input, or–oooh!–have them keep their true name even from their parents, and show only the symbols they choose to represent it.  How romantic is that??

I smell another rainy-Saturday craft session in the works…

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