Those of you who are regulars on this blog… Oh my… There are people who regularly read my posts… that’s still a little though to wrap my mind around. Sorry I’m back! As I was saying, those of you who’ve read a few of my posts may remember that I have an odd interest in names and the act of naming things. It’s ritualistic and often associated with magic. It’s also deeply human. A representation of our unique sense of, even need for, individuality.

I’ve been meaning to put together a top 5 list of shows that also shared this odd little interest with me but I was stuck at 4 for the longest time. And then I started watching a certain magical index. Huzzah! SPOILERS, a Certain Magical Index is going to be on this list.

5. Pokemon

There’s a reason any good pokemon hunter(?) needs to have a nice fat pokedex (am I making all these words up? I’ve never seen the show…) Even a pokenoob like me knows that to summon the little critters, you need to shout out their names. Which also happen to be the name of their species (?) breeds (?)… Does it ever happen that they accidentally summon someone else’s Pokemon?

In any case. I realize that structurally this is just an equivalent to shouting out your power moves. But it still gives a unique importance to pokemon names and marks their relationship with their owners(?) masters(?). I’m sure it’s a great show but you gotta admit, it’s really weird in concept..

4. A certain magical index

Now this is what I’m talking about, secret names!  A certain magical index has a somewhat complex universe. Certain people have xxx (think Quirks in MHA) that are genetic and considered scientific, while those without have the potential to learn magic. You can’t have both. (I’m still in the middle of the first season, this may change). Anyways, people that do learn magic are called sorcerer’s and they all have a magical (or true) name. It’s all scrumptiously chuuni.

Even though it’s implied that knowing a sorcerer’s true name creates some type of bond, in practice (so far) it just looks like the sorcerers are fronting with big claims of, if I tell you my true name then I’ll have to kill you and nothing happens. Which is even more chuuni and delights me. I hope it doesn’t change.

3. Natsume’s book of friends

Natsume treats names like currency and treasure. The book of friends is really just a collection of Yokai names but those names give whoever possess the book power over the owners of said names. As such , the actual names are a type of incantation for Natsume and a shackle for the Yokai. this is why they regularly come to beg for their names back.

Although we never get too much of an explanation as to why, Nyanko also regularly warns Natsume not to let unknown Yokai know his name. It seems the power can go both ways. This is a common theme in many old timey fairy tails. It’s never wise to let otherworldly creatures know your name. I think it’s like giving out your password or something.

As the seasons go by, the presence of the Book of Friends and Natsume’s quest in returning the names have become less central, but they are nevertheless a very important part of the story. My favorite softly sad part is that for the most part the Yokai are just as angry about having had to give their names as they are sad about not being called by them.

Noragami dual yato.jpg
2. Noragami

I’ve written about it quite a bit. The entire covenant between God and regalia is embodied by the act of giving a wandering spirit a name. This name is as much a contract as it is a promise, and for a regalia having that name revoked is a faith worse than death. It represents their existence and purpose. Without it, they are lost.

I always liked the idea that the most important thing a god can give you is a name. It’s an acknowledgement that you are here, the your presence matters and is felt. As such, it also needs to be earned. I like that Noragami gives power and significance not only to the names themselves but to the act of naming. I also love how it conveys the horror of being stripped of a name.As it parallels being stripped of an identity.

Honorable Mention

My Hero Academia

Although it’s not a big part of the overall story, the short aside showing the students choosing their hero names was one of my favourite moments. The series used the opportunity to reaffirm everyone’s personality through their choices. Is Bakugo still officially “King of Explode-Kills”? Moreover, we got a short lesson on the importance of names and branding in any people oriented industry, such as professional heroism.

Of course, since I’m more of a sugar coated marshmallow than a real person, I cried real tears of feels when Deku decided to reapropriate his childhood insult nickname and make it his. This simple moment of empowerment through names still makes me smile whenever I think of it.

Death Note L.jpg
1. Death Note

Death Note is very much a plot driven narrative. No matter how much you may love those characters, it really owes its success to that twisty twervy story that kept so many trying to figure out what would happen next. And everything rests one a basic conceit. Giving an ordinary person indiscriminate power of life and death as long as they know someone’s face…and name! This is why you don’t put pics of yourself on the net kids!

Death Note happens in a universe very similar to ours. As such names don’t have any special powers or meaning. However, they are absolutely necessary for the plot to advance in any way. A lot of time is dedicated to Light trying to figure out people’s real names (both L’s and Naoimi Misora). Misa Musa’s big ace up her sleeve is the power to see people’s names when she looks bat them. The unique Japanese spelling of proper names even plays a role in the story.

Basically, nothing happens if Light’s one of those folks that’s bad with names…I kid but you know what I mean!

There you have it. Just a few series that understand that names are for more than just calling people on the phone.

well that seems inpractical

17 thoughts

  1. I like the “names have power” concept and see it a great deal in tales of magic from the oldest folk tales (which I love to read) to new urban fantasy, and of course, books and some anime. It’s a great concept and I’m glad you took it on.

    My immediate thought as an addition was “That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime”. I’ve been enjoying watching the slime be bumfuddled with the power that giving a monster a name has. I’m not surprised by it because I am an old fashioned table top D&D Dungeon Master. And when I create a campaign there is Goblin #1, #2 – #200 and then there is the two goblin druids, Snick and Snuck, and the Goblin King Slug and believe me they have very different stats from Goblin #1 and #2. The only reason #1 and #2 get any designator at all is so I can keep track of how many hit points they’ve lost. Basically, they’re the red shirts in Star Trek. Nameless. Cannon Fodder.

    Think of it this way… in a crowded shopping mall, someone leaves their purse behind at a register. The nice customer behind them grabs it, runs outside and yells “Hey lady!”. Every female within the sound of his voice probably turns around to look. If he, instead, opened the wallet and got her name, he would step out and yell “Hey Jane Smith!” and ONLY Jane Smith turns around. AH HAH he’s got her NOW! Unless the clever and magic savvy Jane Smith never goes by Jane Smith – all her friends call her Bloodwitch – so she hears Jane Smith but thinks twice before she turns around…

    I may be high.

    1. Everytime I hear about I look even more forward to seeing slime! I never turn around when someone says hey lady…which says something aout me

  2. Thanks for including “A certain magical index!”

    I mean, come on: Index Librorum Prohibitorum is just a cool name!

    Have you seen Campione!? It’s one of those shows I don’t see much about, but there’s a lot I liked about it! The MC can gain advantages over his enemies to the extent that he knows more about them — including previous names! Not _exactly_ the same idea, but close enough the series might interest you!

    Fair warning, though: It’s a harem show. But it’s one where the MC is not an idiot. And the women in his life are decidedly not shrinking violets.

    1. One of my all time favourite shows is a Harem. I’ve never even hear of Campione – I should look it up

  3. For some reason I’ve never had an attachment to names. I’m reminded, though, of a short story I once read, “From the Annals of the Onomastic Society”, by Ian Watson. A vaguely asian looking guy shows up and sits in on a meeting of the onomastic society. Nobody knows him. Turns out he’s called Li, and he’s a time traveller from a future where “Li” is the only surviving surname, and he’s here to collect extinct surnames. (I don’t remember the story ever telling me why they didn’t just make up new ones, but that’s maybe me not respecting names properly. You’d probably want names with meaning and history.)

    All those anime you list are great examples I wouldn’t have thought of, because names aren’t high on my list of priorities. Fun read.

  4. Monogatari takes place over a year- Koyomi means calendar and stuff happens monthly. The vampire Kiss-Shot loses her identity when her name was taken from her.
    … unexpected, right?

  5. This was really interesting. I’ve always enjoyed shows and books that have had names as a form of power or the need to keep your true name a secret.

  6. Pokemon Master, not Pokemon Hunter. You got Pokedex right, though.

    The “shouting the names of the Pokemon’s breed” thing is pretty much just an anime thing; in the games, you give each Pokemon a “nickname”, and that’s what you shout when you release them from their balls (teehee). Unless you’re one of those boring people who doesn’t like to give your Pokemon inappropriate names. Go, JONATHAN, use THUNDERSHOCK!

    A good example of the “names have power” thing is the Fate series, where a Heroic Spirit’s “True Name” gives one power over them — at least partly because if you can identify who they are, you’ll know what their flaws and weaknesses are. As such, we get characters who — at least in the original visual novel and anime series — are known by their “class” rather than their actual name. More recent Fate works have kind of relaxed this a little bit; mobile game Fate/Grand Order, for example, has everyone happily throwing their True Name around like it’s… well, their name.

    The idea of “True Name” is actually quite a common one in works that involve magic. I’ve seen it come up in a number of games, visual novels and anime over the course of the last few years; it’s a concept that apparently (thanks Wikipedia) dates back to ancient Egypt, with a legend of Isis gaining power over Ra by learning his true name. And, of course, there’s popular myths and fables like Rumpelstiltskin that play on this idea, too.

    As a tangent, the same article suggests that Fate’s idea of “corrupted” forms of servants being referred to as “Alter” may stem from Jewish tradition — apparently if a number of a family’s children die, the next to be born is called “Alter” as a means of giving them “no name” so that the Angel of Death can’t find them.

    Learning things is fun!

    1. wow – That is grim but awesome. I didn’t know that but I’m so glad to have learned it.

      Thanks Pete!

  7. I’ve actually been thinking about names in anime a lot this season because of two specific anime. The first is ‘That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime’ where (*mild spoilers*) it’s a world where giving “monsters” like the kind you’d fight in an RPG and never really think of like (Goblins, Wolves, etc.) giving them names actually imbues them with strength and status, esentially levelling them up. It’s a cool idea and show’s that the power of giving something a name–that might not ordinarily have one–has.

    The other show is Goblin Slayer which goes the other way (and in my opinion to its detriment) none of the characters have names, they’re just known as their job title or allottment in life. So our main characters are literally just called: Goblin Slayer, Priestess, High Elf Archer, Dwarf Shaman, Lizard Priest, Cow Girl and Guild Girl. And I honestly think its the worst thing the show has done in terms of getting me to identify and connect with these characters. And yes other people beside Irina who are reading this, I ~know~ why the light novel author chose to do this but I still think it was a bad decision.

    Ahem… anyway, great post, Irina!

    1. I did read the light novel but haven’t seen the anime yet. I have a soft spot for old school title names – it reminds me of 8bit theater!

      Thanks Matt – great comment. I’m actually really looking forward to watcing slime once the season is over

      1. Slime’s fun. I don’t know how good an adaption it is, but fans of either the ln or the manga seem pretty happy with it. Okasaki Miho does a splendid job voicing the slime, she manages to sound like a guy in his thirties with a new voice at times, but she’s also got great energy. She’s a fairly new voice actress, a name to watch, I say. And the slime’s awefully cute, too. Would make a great plushy.

        1. Marketing tie ins…always the most important part of anime!
          This is such a timely comment. Im putting together my favourite voice actress list

Leave me a comment and make my day!