The Power of Names

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I am currently way up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, perched eight thousand feet above sea level, at a ski resort with no snow. Since I have a blog now, though, I thought I’d give you a little bit of an insight into my thought process. This was an essay I wrote a few months ago, at the beginning of autumn, just to amuse myself. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to leave comments below.


There’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately…

Every fantasy fan knows the power of names. The art of Naming (the idea that knowledge of a thing’s true name gives you power over that thing) is everywhere in fantasy. From A Wizard of Earthsea to The Name of the Wind, it’s all over the place. Hell, even the magic in Harry Potter is a form of Naming.

So I got to thinking: do real-world names contain a touch of destiny?

And as I was thinking, I realized that it may be quite possible. I don’t think John F. Kennedy would have gone as far as he did if he had been named Zebediah Q. Thubberton. It’s the same with Barack Obama. His name sounds majestic, resplendent in glory. Listen to those deep back vowels. Would Obama have become president if he had been named Pinky Ingelberg?

Maybe there is a destiny in names. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe because these people achieved powerful, influential positions, their names have achieved a certain resonance in our minds.

But still, a lot of famous people’s names have a certain resonance to them. Leonardo da Vinci, J.R.R. Tolkien, Isabel Allende, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Disney, Margaret Thatcher, Neil Gaiman– the list goes on and on. It’s common practice for actors to change their names in order for them to sound cooler. (What, you think that Tom Cruise is really named Tom Cruise? I call SHENANIGANS.)

So, if this is true for people, is it also true for places?

Think about it.

New York. Vancouver. Rome. Hong Kong. London. Jerusalem. San Francisco. Washington DC. Puerto Vallarta. Barcelona. Rio de Janeiro. Honolulu. Singapore. Sydney. Bali.

Every one of their names stimulates something deep within our minds. The very phonemes of a name like Honolulu or Bali or Rio creates associations of tropical sun and sexytimes in our minds. Place names like Rome or Jerusalem or Washington DC stimulate the parts of our brains associated with majestic grandeur.

Maybe it’s just semantic association. But I think that there’s a destiny in names, that people wouldn’t have been driven in masses to move to America if it had been named Redneckistan, and wars wouldn’t have been fought over Jerusalem if it had been named Finkelsburg. The siren call of New York or Hollywood for millions of young people… is it, in part, affected by their euphonious names?

Of course, if this is the case, then a bad name may affect the destiny of a town or a city as well.

Exhibit A: Fresno.

For many Californians, Fresno occupies a gap in our minds. Sitting like a lint-filled belly button near the exact center of the state, most Californians would seem to think that Fresno is a sleepy, small town.

Most Californians would be surprised to learn that Fresno has half a million people, and is the fifth largest city in the state.


So why does Fresno occupy a blank spot in the minds of most Californians? Maybe it’s because it has no distinguishing features. I mean, come on: most other large California towns have distinctive features. Los Angeles has excessively rich people, excessively beautiful people, and excessively violent people (often all three at once!) San Francisco has fog and hippies and hipsters and a big red bridge. San Diego has sun and sand and aircraft carriers and Comic-Con. Orange County has Disneyland and a lot of shopping malls. Lake Tahoe has skiing and casinos. Napa has wine. Eureka has pot. And so on and so forth.

However, Fresno has… nothing. Now bear with me: I’m going to postulate that Fresno has no distinguishing features because it doesn’t have a distinguishing name. If Fresno had an interesting name, then that would attract interesting people to Fresno, and make it less boring. Names are destiny, for the reasons I’ve posted above, and so therefore giving Fresno a new name will cause it to instantly change its destiny.

So, Fresno: Are you ready for your new name?

Drum roll, please:

Your new name is: ROBO-VEGAS 9000.

Not only will this trick people into thinking that Fresno is a futuristic metropolis with robot gambling and android hookers, it will also make saying that you’re from Fresno at parties much more interesting. Because honestly, where would you rather say you live: in boring ol’ Fresno, California, or sexy-awesome ROBO-VEGAS 9000?


~ Ian


  1. […] Names are important. Every reader of fantasy novels knows this. And place names are also important, as I pointed out in one of the first posts I did on this blog. […]

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