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Power of Names

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end we’re all storytellers. Writing Challenges help you push your…

  • Ready to write? We’ll give you a new challenge each Monday. Publish a new post on your blog that interprets the challenge. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end we’re all storytellers. Writing Challenges help you push your writing boundaries and explore new ideas, subjects, and styles.

To participate, read the challenge instructions and write at least one post in response. Tag your post with DPchallenge and include a link to this post to generate a pingback. Make sure your post has been specifically published in response to this challenge. We might just highlight some of our favorites on Freshly Pressed on Fridays, or in our quarterly newsletter.

You can get out of a bargain with Rumpelstiltskin if you know his true name. Names can give you access that others don’t have. Literature and fairy tales are obsessed with the power names can have over people and objects. This week, we’re asking you to take a look at what names mean to you.

The history of names

Names are powerful objects. Our names are significant to us and we keep them private, sharing rarely if at all. Sometimes names are used as a sort of “Get out of jail free” card, as in the classic fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin.

In this tale, a queen wishes for gold — specifically, the ability to weave gold from straw. Rumpelstiltskin, a mysterious figure offering the queen this power, asks for her firstborn child in exchange, unless she can find Rumpelstiltskin’s true name.

On the Internet, it can be difficult to identify a person’s true identity. There are two threads here: the power of anonymity and the struggle for true identification. In order to be anonymous, you can simply pick a new name. To identify yourself truly is harder: tools like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) can be used to help.

In contemporary fiction, the power of names continues to fascinate writers and readers. Two of the more popular series in the science fiction and fantasy field are Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles and Scott Lynch’s The Gentlemen Bastards. In both series, names are given sorcerous power over objects and people; one character yearns to know the name of the wind, another taunts readers and fellow characters with the mystery of his true name.

In marriage, tradition is for the woman to take her husband’s name. In most cultures today, this is just a convenience, though there can still be religious significance. Historically, a woman would take her husband’s name because she was unable to own property or amass wealth. Taking her husband’s name allowed her to do both of these things, and provide for her children’s future.

The power of names

For this week’s challenge, we’re asking you to explore your history with names. What meaning does your name have to you? What power does it have over you? Do you have a nickname when you are at home, but not in the world at large? Or vice versa?

Need some help getting started? Here are some prompts:

  • Do you like your name? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever legally changed your name? Describe the experience.
  • How did you choose your child’s or pet’s name?
  • Growing up, did your parents have their own nickname for you? Why? Would you do this with your children?
  • Did you go to school in a different country where the standard of names is different? What was your experience with this?
  • How many names do you legally have? Why? Where did they come from?
  • For our fiction writers, show us the power of names. Is it the name of an object, person, or place? What power does the name provide?
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  1. There is a little contradiction tied up in this challenge, and it makes me wonder whether to join in. Your premise is absolutely right – our names are important, our identities are worth sharing, but sparingly. In that context what my name means to me may be the more important truth than what my name is. The meaning is more revelatory than the datum. Do I want to shout that truth out to the world in a blog post?

    It is a great challenge, because in that frisson of do I, don’t I? there may be a pivotal moment of self awareness.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I used to be in a poetry group where we referred to each other as “po’ ass art hos”. Until I read your About page I went off in a completely different direction with “clients”.

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      1. Oh I think sometimes you have to click on the Post Name if u are viewing on u r phone? Let me know if that doesn’t work I would hate for people to not be able to Like my stuff total buzz kill :)

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      2. Maybe I didn’t explain that well enough wouldn’t be the first time :)
        you want to actually click on the name of the post title the post title should then open up on its own screen and then the option to like it should be up in the left-hand corner again are you doing this on your phone?

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      3. Your instructions are perfect. I was wanting to like the comment you made on the actual comment board just above where all the posts are listed. It’s OK though.. I’ll just leave nice comments instead!!

        Thank you for super response. Enjoying your posts and motivating blog. Happy Days! :-D

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      4. My dear reader I wish for you to make comments any which where way and how you please :) and thank you for all the positive feedback you keep me motivated . People helping people :)

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  2. My mother got pregnant of me and already knew I was going to be a girl. “I’m going to call her Irene.” she said. “She will have brown eyes and black hair like her mother”. But my father, who likes to challenge the gods of fortune and dna said: ” What if she is going to be blond with blue eyes like me!? Then I shall pick her name, and her name will be Valentina”. “You’re on” said my mother, sure of winning the name competition. The day of the delivery came, and they drove her to the only hospital of the area, up, up on the hill, and every curve the car made she yelled “It’s IRENE, I’m sure of it!” and my father, holding her hand dearly “I’m sorry my love, it’s Valentina, I just know it!”. They finally got her to the delivery room and after 2 hours of madness and yells and screams and swear words that we will not repeat at this moment, their little girl came out, crying like and eagle, blond as her nordic looking father. “Ah!” he said “She’s blond!”. “But what color are her eyes?”, asked my mother with a wishful tone. “They are brown and beautiful, just like yours sweetheart!” “It’s a tie then. But since hair comes in a larger number then eyes, we still shall call her Valentina”. And a messenger came down from the mountain yelling to each corner “Valentina! Valentina!” until everybody knew the name of the newborn, and from that moment on, the whole village never called me anything else. The End.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a sweet story! And like Litte Miss Menopause, I thought you’d end up with a blend of both names ‘Valene’ or ‘Irentina’, but I do love your father’s choice. Nice to meet you, Valentina! x

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  3. I love this! Am going to do one on Naming your Blog and Naming (Titling) Each post as well as naming your “Blogger Persona” This from a woman who named herself Little Miss Menopause (thank goodness most people just call me LMM!) and almost called her blog, “My Soggy, Sloggy, Foggy, Smoggy, Cloggy, Groggy Bloggy!” Great topic!

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      1. hahaha! Good call ;-D Happy St Pat’s to you!

        Can’t wait to read more life affirming posts from your superb blog!

        I keep thinking of powerful names now. Some of the Saxon Kings have wild names (like Ethelred the great! what a corker) It’s an intriguing topic!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I recently tweeted the following: ‘how many apemen does it take to name a tree, tree #lemmeknow’ and as I’ve only just recently started blogging, I’m playing around with the concept a bit. it’s somewhat of a funny thing, since as long as a character or a thing in the world doesn’t have a name, it seems to be locked in a state of semi or non-existence even, waiting to be called to life, full of possibilities, so it’s somewhat of a utopian state of being, don’t we all want to be filled to the brim with possibilities? so in that respect, giving something a name is limiting it to a certain field of concepts perhaps… lol, just thinking aloud ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My Russian given name is Irina, from the Greek “peaceful”. I was born on December 23, 1941 when the USSR was desperately fighting the rapidly advancing German Army. My father, the high school principal, volunteered to go with the echelon of Siberian sharpshooters in spite of his age, politics, and the fact he had at the time three daughters, and the fourth, me, still unborn.
    My mom desperately hoped for peace, for him coming home, for her family in Leningrad to stay safe (they all perished in the Siege of Leningrad a year later. She named her next daughter Svetlana, meaning (light, bright) since the girl was born when the war was almost over, and the country was looking forward to peace and prosperity…
    I did change my name from Irina to Irene when I came to the U.S., with regret. I loved my name, but most Americans were pronouncing it like “Urina”, and it bothered me, so I accommodated THEM, not myself.
    I named my daughter “Vita” , (life) because I’ve seen too many deaths…
    In Russia it is customary to have a diminutive names instead of the official at home, among friends, and for your beloveds. I was called “Ira” (Eera), Irochka, Irinushaka, Irishka, Iryonok and many more tender and loving names by my friends, relatives, and my husband. I still miss my “little” names here, in the States. My older daughter used the diminutive names with my granddaughters, Shelly for Michelle, Nicky for Nicole.
    In my years of schooling in Russia I was called by my family name by teachers most of the time, it is customary, because using your given name is deemed a familiarity in Russia. When one becomes an adult, most of the friends would still call you by your fiven name, but strangers, co-workers and superiors would call you using your given name and the patronymic. For example, my given name is Irina, but when I became the nurse-practitioner, everybody except the family and friends started calling me Irina Petrovma (Irina the daughter of Pyotr)
    I’ve had several legal surnames, Semenyuk (my father’s surname), Vinokurova (my first late husband surname), Glasgow Guy (my second late husband name), and two first names I mentioned before ))
    Personally, I like my names! My father’s surname is significant to me because he was a descendant of the generations and generations of the Siberian Cossack Regiment Orthodox ministers. No person in my immediate family ever joined the Communist Party after the Revolution. Even the Komsomol , the youth Communist organization, was repulsive to me. They forced me to join it, but I stopped paying dues right away and they were forced to “exclude” me, thank God! My second husband’s surname is partially French (Huguenots, who escaped from France to Ireland) , and partially Geographic, reflecting the area they escaped to. It is a wonderful historic name, and I am proud to have it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You should ! I have been wondering why Indian names are so long at least 5 syllables. Contrary to that, we Chinese have very short names! Haha.

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  6. I have a quite different take on this. It is probably not what you all had in mind, but it’s been on my mind and this is a better than average time to address it. Because there are a lot of names in this world and not all of them were chosen with love.

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    1. What we have in mind is to get you inspired to write. Looks like “mission accomplished” for Tim, here. :) I’m really interested in reading your challenge post, Marilyn.

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  7. Ma’am, mamma, fatty, chinu, smits, moti, are some if the names I am addressed by. Of course besides my given name neha. Kept by my sister in class 7, as she thought that the numerical combination of my name smita, were not going to help my fate. So offically my name changed to neha from smita, they mean love n smile respectively. Each is interdependent i think. So i have no preferences. Of all my names my personal favourite is mamma, as i love the brat who calls me that and he is the reason for my smile most of the times. I guess, more than the name the person inside that name reflects its meaning!!http://vaughtbabydreams.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/weekly-writing-challege-power-of-names/ mhttp://vaughtbabydreams.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/weekly-writing-challege-power-of-names/

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      1. Thank you so much for reading and for the heartwarming comment, Jill! I’m a sucker for adorable animals. There’s a possibility I might name my future daughter Adelie. Don’t you think she’d be so flattered to be named after a penguin?! :) Thanks, again!

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  8. DPChallenge

    “Lori shall be your name.”
    “No, let’s call her Lorelei!”
    “No, that sounds like a southern stripper. Lori, that’s her name.”
    So reverberated the battle over what appellation to bestow upon me. My father won out and I became Lori. How I wish it had been Lorelei. I’ve considered changing it many times – and it’s often what my mother called me, as my parents divorced when I was three years old and I lived with my mother. Alas, I never did and my whole life I have felt my name, Lori, didn’t really capture my true essence. I felt like Lorelei embodied my real self.

    A name represents so much in a person’s life. Though Shakespeare argues: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” I wonder if the great bard is correct. Perhaps we would perceive the rose as even sweeter if the name could more aptly describe the essence of that sweetness. Could a different name alter one’s destiny? Can identifying a person, by different syllables rolling off the tongue, really refashion one’s existence? Indeed, a different name could change the inner psyche and the way one felt about oneself in such a way that outward transformation would be inevitable. I believe names are, in fact, providential.

    Deep down, I’ve always felt like a Lorelei. Though the myth of Lorelei is less than charming, I somehow have always identified with the name. According to German lore, once a beautiful young lass named Lorelei through herself into a river in sorrow because of a faithless lover. In death, she transformed into a siren who sang on a rock along the Rhine River near the village of St. Goar. Her mesmerizing melody lured sailors to a watery death, as they would seek the source of the music and crash upon the rock. The legend is based on an echoing rock with that name near Sankt Goarshausen, Germany.

    Though I’ve never lured unsuspecting sailors to their death (nor had any desire to do so), I have always felt the authority of my would-be name and took on that power as my own. Simply knowing that my name was almost Lorelei and hearing my mother call me that from time to time, gave me the ingenuity I wield today and has helped mold me into a strong and mighty woman. Names Matter. Choose Wisely!

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161 Responses Ready to write? To participate, publish a post on your blog that responds to the prompt. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More