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The Power of a "True Name"

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”― Richard P. Feynman

In Spirited Away, the evil witch Yubaba controls her servant Haku by causing him to forget his “true name”.  The miller’s daughter only defeated Rumplestiltskin when she found out his “true name”.  Bilbo Baggins used riddles to conceal his “true name” from Smaug in The Hobbit.  In these stories, the “true name” symbolizes vulnerability and is a form of power.

You can see this in real life.  Almost everyone protects themselves by holding on to identities.  They put on masks and portray themselves as idealized versions to hide their vulnerabilities.  But being vulnerable is a superpower in itself.  Knowing your own weaknesses empowers you to stay true to yourself.  By realizing and knowing exactly who you are and what you want, you can choose to do things because you want to do them, not because you’re fulfilling a role.

Calling other things by their true names gives you power over them.  By stating exactly what a problem is, you can attack the vulnerabilities.  If a project feels overwhelming, defining and breaking down the steps makes it manageable and less intimidating.

Conversely, calling something by a false name distracts you from the underlying problem.  Because you’re trying to fix the wrong problem, you don’t address the real one.

The worst part of calling something by a false name is the anxiety it causes.  How many times did the end of the world NOT actually happen?

Using a “true name” is a sign of humility.  You aren’t ascribing additional meaning, you’re not reading someone else’s mind, you are seeing what is actually there, nothing more.