I Have Many Names
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Her name was McGill
And she called herself "Lil",
But everyone knew her as "Nancy".

- The Beatles, Rocky Racoon

Basic Information

Rather than having one single simple name, this character has several, possibly dozens, maybe even hundreds of names, titles, epithets, etc. So many that it's hard to keep track of them all.

Related Tropes:
No Name Given
Overly Long Name
Naming Conventions


2. Plains Indians Names — a brief overview of some of the naming customs of the Plains Indians and how a person's name could change over the course of his life.
3. Northwest Coat Indian Names — More Indian naming customs, this time from the Northwest Coast region on North America

Game and Story Use

  • Very common trait among scary mythological characters, because of fear they'll hear you speaking their real name. See also The Fair Folk.
    • In the case of someone like Nyarlathotep or the gods of the Dodekatheon, each name might be a distinct avatar.
      • Good ol' "Gnarly Hotep" brings up a very good point. When your real name is The Unpronounceable, it's only natural you're going to end up nicknames.
    • Summoning or binding a supernatural creature might require an invocation using all (or many) of it's names. Or just the one true name.
  • In general, mystic theory tends to hold that naming something gives you power over it, and that the name of a thing was an inherent part of it. Having many names reduces the effect of someone knowing your one, true name … particularly if none of the names they use are your true name.
    • As an example, in the Hebrew tradition, names are very important - words have power over things, not least because The Creator brought the world into being with spoken commands, rather than by the work of His hands as in pagan myths. Of course The Creator Himself made a point of never telling anyone His name - choosing instead to describe Himself simple as "I am" (YaHWeH), which in turn became so holy to the Jews that they rarely spoke or wrote the name, referring instead to HaShem ("The Name") or used a variety of other names that are actually titles (Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of Hosts, The All Sufficient etc.). Compare the Arabic Al'lah (roughly "he who is") and the "thousand" (an approximative for "vast multitude") names of God. When Adam was given authority over Creation, this was symbolised by him being told to name all of the animals he was receiving dominion over, and as noted below, God was also shown to rename people to mark epochal events in their lives.
      • In some extreme cases this becomes a Living Parable, as in the son of the prophet Isaiah, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; ("quick to plunder, swift to spoil") (Isaiah 8:3-4).
  • Of course, if naming something does give you power over it … what does that say about the "Ruby Tuesday" character, who has no true name, and perhaps no true identity, either because they lost them somewhere along the way, or they were never really 'given' them in the first place?
  • A plethora of names might also be the mythic equivalent of accreditation. They didn't have PhD and MD to put after the names of the gods and heroes in olden days.
  • You could set up your campaign as if it had many competing villains, when it actually has just one Big Bad Evil Guy known by many names to his legions of henchmen. How long will it take the PCs to figure this out?
    • Or, the opposite. They assume all the badguys work for one evil master with many names, but later discover there's at least two competing evils that can be played against each other. Trying to sort out the details ("wait, the goblins work for who, again?") may involve a lot of legwork.
    • Combining these, you might have one villain, with each group of henchmen working for the same person under a different name. Regular miscommunication (or a Thousand Masks situation) results in the henchmen sometimes working at cross purposes.
  • In ancient times, it was not unusual for a person to receive a new name, or add a new descriptive name to his existing one, when he undergoes a significant life experience.
    • Examples from the Bible include Abram who became Abraham; Jacob who became Israel; Saul of Tarsus who became Paul and Simon became Peter. Lemuel1, Theophilus2 and Barnabus3 probably started off with different names as well.
    • Traditionally the Pope chooses a "reign name" distinct from his own name when he succeeds to the papacy.
    • In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Thorin the dwarf gained the name "Oakenshield" when he grabbed a tree branch to replace his own shield which had been destroyed in battle. PC's may gain descriptive surnames/nicknames for similar reasons.
      • In one of this arcanist's campaigns, a character found herself on the wrong side of the dragon the Duke was fighting. Rather than go around the dragon, she ran over it. Afterwards the Duke scolded her for "dancing on top of that dragon", which led to the Duke's men calling her "Lady Dragondancer".
    • The article cited above in the Bibliography, Plains Indian Names, gives a brief overview of how this sort of name-changing was done among various Indian tribes of the Great Plains.
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