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Book of Unlimited Magic / True Names

The Nature of Names

Source Secrets of Magic pg. 244 1.1
For the purposes of true name magic, names are divided into three categories: public names, private names, and true names. Public names are what we call something when we don't have a more specific name. They're often just words—like “grass” or “a giraffe”—but they also include aliases and nicknames. A public name can be given without consent, which is how spellcasters who rely on names work magic on those they don't know, improvising a nickname or simply referring to the target with a noun, like “elf.”

Private names include most birth names, given names, and chosen names. They're not necessarily a secret, but at the same time not everyone knows them. They're confidential, and knowing them means you can better understand—and influence—the individual. Places, animals, and other objects can be given private names by individuals and communities. A mountain is just a mountain, but when those who live nearby see in it the image of a protective goddess and begin to call it the Stone Mother, that mountain has now gained a private name known only to this community.

A person, place, or thing might have many public or private names, but it can have only one true name, which perfectly represents its essence. Depending on their culture, individuals may not even be aware of theirs; a child who grows up in a society without knowledge of true names could live their whole life relying solely on private names and never even suspect they have a true name, let alone know what it is! But in cultures where this magic is common, most people know their true name and take steps to protect it. They keep their true name secret, revealing it only to their most trusted loved ones. An individual might first be told their true name by someone knowledgeable in magic, who finds it for them via research. But in other societies, individuals are given their true name by their soulmate, who knows this name without being told. Knowing your own true name gives you a deep, introspective insight into yourself that allows you to understand your own motivations and psychology, helping you self-actualize and avoid dissociation and anomie.

True names, by definition, encapsulate everything an individual is and has ever been. They are the essential kernel of a person, and that means they do not change. But life, magic, and the world are mysterious and unpredictable! There are a few individuals who go through an experience so transformative that they become, for all practical purposes, a different person at the end of the story than they were at the beginning—and when they change, their true name changes with them.