He knows our true names, Eragon. We are his slaves forever.— Murtagh
A person's true name is a group of words in the Ancient Language that summarise that person's existence. Knowing something's true name gives you power over it.
Because the Ancient Language allows for objects to be controlled through their names, the knowledge of one's true name is a source of great power. Brom warned Eragon that if another person learned his true name, that person would be able to control him.
Learning a true name
When Oromis promised to teach Eragon everything he could concerning any one branch of Magic, Eragon asked if Oromis could teach him his true name. Oromis admitted that he likely could, but denied the request and told Eragon that "a person must earn enlightenment." Oromis stated that while a true name could be of great importance magically, it was not a spell in and of itself and was therefore exempt from his promise.
When a person tells another their true name, it is the greatest gift they can possibly give. It is a symbol of complete trust and intimacy between two beings. An example was in the last couple chapters of Inheritance (book), when Eragon and Arya shared their own true names with each other.
Changing a true name
It was revealed in Brisingr that a person's true name can be changed and in doing so a person gains freedom from all past commitments they made in the Ancient Language. In other words, if a person were to promise something in the Ancient Language and their true name changes at a later date, then the promises no longer hold them since they are essentially not the person who made the promise anymore. In order for one's true name to change, their personality must change in a significant manner. For example, Oromis stated that becoming a mother and meeting Brom altered Selena to such a degree that her true name changed, or how later by falling in love with Nasuada and caring more about her than himself, changed Murtagh's name. The power of a true name is strong, stronger than even the Rider-Dragon bond.
… who know their true names
- All physically mature elves instinctively know their true names (Brom stated that all elves instinctively know their true names, clarified by Arya that physically mature elves know their names after Eragon pointed out a contradiction)
- (possibly) Angela
… who have altered their true name
- Eragon (From the moment he left Carvahall until he discovers his true name)
- Ajihad (In Inheritance Galbatorix tells Nasuada about her father serving Enduriel and goes on to explain that he left to join the Varden. Galbatorix then goes on a rant about people changing their true names.)
- Saphira (Her true name expressed her as the last female dragon and likely would have changed automatically the second that she realized there existed a large cache of dragon eggs, many of which would contain female dragons. Additionally, her true name expressed her bond with Eragon, which had developed over time.)
- Glaedr (On Vroengard he stated that he had changed after Oromis died)
- (possibly) Galbatorix after Jarnunvösk died.
- (Possibly) Nasuada after realizing the way she felt about Murtagh.
- all of the Eldunarí after being controlled by Galbatorix.
- (possibly) all Dragon Riders after bonding with their Dragons.
Other known true names
- Eragon suspects that Brisingr might be both the name and true name of his Sword, as whenever he says its name, it bursts into blue flames. This was proven false by Glaedr, who pointed out that Brisingr is the name of fire, but that his sword most likely had the word 'Brisingr' in it. Eragon later discovers its true name when he summons his sword's "essence".
- Eragon discovered Sloan's true name and used it to send him to Ellesméra, as well as prevent him from ever speaking with Katrina again. Sloan realized Eragon knew his true name as well.
The idea that knowing somebody's true name or, even worse, speaking it loudly, gave one insight into his being and power over him is part of the ancient Egyptian mythology.
Both the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as Ursula LeGuin employ the concept that true names are powerful and are not readily shared. For example, The Quest of Erebor that was included in the Unfinished Tales by J.R.R. Tolkien demonstrates that in Tolkien's mythos the dwarves never share their actual names with outsiders and instead have another name to use when abroad. In the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, Fangorn the Ent gives a brief mention about the power hidden within one's true name. Throughout Tolkien's works, the ents, elves, dwarves, men and maiar all possess many other names that they utilize instead of their true names.
In Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea saga, true names are held to be imbued with great power and used sparingly, for example the Archmage Ged, is more often called Sparrowhawk throughout the series and his true name is used only in special circumstances. Paolini has stated that unlike Mrs. LeGuin, he has decided not to explicitly give any true names in his books to retain their air of power.
Much emphasis is also placed on "true names" in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, a work by Johnathan Stroud. However, in this series, a person's true name is the name they are given by their parents at birth. Young magicians are taken from their parents at a young age and must decide on a new name to use in public, as a person's true name can be used against them by both fellow magicians and demons alike. It is stated by the demon Bartimaeus that he can turn any punishment given by Nathaniel, known to almost all as John Mandrake, back upon him, due to the demon's knowledge of Nathaniel's true name.
The Books of Pellinor, a series written by Australian poet and author Alison Croggon, also refers to the power of true names. True names are the essence of one's self and to deny oneself is an unthinkable atrocity only one man has ever committed, the Nameless one. One's true name can only be learned through an instatement to a full Bard. The protagonist, Maerad, learns her Bardic true name under a ceremony with the White Flame. If someone knew her true name, they could exert power and control over her. Luckily, she had three names, as well as an elemental true name, which protected her from those who knew her Bardic true name.
In the Skulduggery Pleasant books, a person's true name has great significance. In this series, a person has three names: a taken name (chosen by themselves), a given name (from their parents) and a true name. The true name, if known, gives another power over them.
In Island of the Blue Dolphins the tribe people are given two names. One to address each other with and another true name for only a few people to know. Karana was the name she used to be addressed by and Wonapalei was her true name. The people in her tribe chose their own true names.
Behind the scenes
- Brom's assertion that elves instinctively know their true names seems to be contradicted by Arya's tale of discovering a beautiful flower that seeing helped her to realize who she was and thus discover her true name. A possible explanation, however, may be that her True Name had changed and that while elves know their initial True Name, they must discover the new one if it changes.
- Brisingr - "Your requests grow ever more difficult. I might be able to guess your true name if I so wished. Yes, I believe I could. But I will not."