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  • George Samuels

The Power of Names

You wouldn’t think too much about the power of names in today’s day and age, but in ancient times, to know one’s name was to have power over them. When war, survival or fear were the only things on people’s minds, revealing something as simple as a name was believed to be taboo.

In the story of Pai & Vau, one of my animated stories from Nanumea, Tuvalu, the protagonist, Tefolaha, figures out the names of two women through trickery, which in turn forced them to leave the island and hand it over to Tefolaha.

What the hell?

Yeah, it may seem like a very strange way to “win a battle” but, in the old days, it was a legitimate one. If you think about it, it’s probably a better way of taking over a piece of land than killing all its inhabitants. Neither are ideal, but that’s how the story of Pai & Vau goes (and all stories have different takes, depend on who’s telling it).

In many traditional cultures, knowing someone’s name could reveal a lot about a person – their ancestry, their kinship ties, their livelihood, etc. This is why, in some cultures, grandparents were/are so interested in a person’s family name, more than anything else.

Using Names to Fool Others

There’s also the case of using a false name to create a different persona. Rappers and artists use it all the time. In a way, it helps preserve their old or private lives, so they can “run wild” with the new name. It allows them to feel free as they go about and do things they would not want to do under their birth name.

When you learn about an artist’s real name (50 Cent is Curtis Jackson, Jay-Z is Sean Carter, and Sasha Fierce is Beyonce), some of the magic or enchantment can be lost. You get so drawn in by their creative names, you forget that they started out as normal human beings once upon a time.

So it’s important to understand just how names can create new stories, or even conceal old ones. Just from a name.

Selecting Your Name

When we’re born, we’re usually given a name from our parents. So much of our childhood is spent living in accordance to our parents energies, teachings and beliefs. When we reach adulthood, we change names either through marriage or the use of nicknames. We find a desire to want to break old moulds and carve something new. Therefore, if you ever do choose a new name, it’s very important to select it wisely. For what you choose to use, will end up being a source for your new story.

This is also true for brands, products and even services! Think about some of the world’s most successful ad agencies – they take the ideation process of branding very seriously. It can take weeks, if not months, to actually come up with a brand name or slogan.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the belief, “To know one’s name, is to have power over them?” Why or why not? Write your comments below.