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Someday I will have to get Lady to explain the whole true names thing in a way that even a dummy like me can understand. Maybe I can get her to explain the whole business of sorcery so that those of us who study these Annals will have at least a vague idea of what is going on.

Murgen, She Is the Darkness

A true name is the original birth name of an individual. In the sorcery of the Black Company series, a wizard's true name is their most closely-guarded secret, as it can be used to render their spells powerless and defeat, coerce, or even permanently disarm them. It is the most significant limitation faced by all wizards, regardless of their magnitude, and with no exception. As a result, wizards have been known to take great precautions to hide their true identity. Some of the most dangerous ones often erase all trace of their earlier life, including past acquaintances, friends, and family.

Inscribed on weaponry[]

An arrow inscribed with the true name of a mighty sorcerer can pierce through complex protective spells to deliver genuinely dangerous wounds, whereas a normal arrow would be ineffectual. Such an arrow was used by Raven on the Limper during his ambush in the Forest of Cloud; another such arrow was used by Croaker to ward off Soulcatcher at the Tower at Charm.

On the night of the first day of the Battle of Dejagore, Croaker was stunned at how powerless Stormbringer seemed to be in the face of mortal danger. He guessed that somehow, Shapeshifter was nullifying her sorcery with the power of her true name:

Stormbringer seemed powerless. Why? A few minutes ago she had been bringing in that monster of a storm to whip on us. Shifter was no greater power than she. Unless, somehow, he had come upon that bane of all the Taken, a True Name.[1]

Rite of Naming[]

The Rite of Naming is a mysterious ritual through which the performer utterly strips away a target wizard's innate magical capability forever. The full ritual is not explained in the Annals, but it has two parts:

  1. mandatory "suitable rituals" which must be performed by a wizard first,
  2. and a final "closing" portion which can be accomplished by absolutely anyone, even a non-wizard.

The "suitable rituals" are never explained. More is known about the "closing" portion, which follows a loose formula: "The rite is complete" or "The ritual is closed" followed by "I name your true name, [target's name]." It must be spoken within earshot of the target.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is true that the closing portion of the Rite of Naming (speaking the name aloud) does not need to be performed by a wizard at all. It can be done by any mundane non-sorcerer. And, it can even be completed inside a "null" field (a bubble of anti-magic where no spells work). Croaker wrote "I had been assured that the naming of a name, once suitable rituals had been observed, could not be stilled by the null"[2]. Indeed the two most famous examples of the Rite of Naming took place within Darling's null:

  1. Darling, named by the Lady
  2. The Lady, named by Silent

Lady appeared, at first, to be the first-ever exception to the Rite of Naming. Months after she fell victim to the Rite's effects, she seemed to nevertheless regain her powers, albeit slowly, in the southern continent. However, it would become known that Kina was proactively funneling her own power onto Lady, and then Lady used her immense experience to parasitize her donor. When her connection to Kina was cut off, she returned to being a mere mortal. In the end, she would utilize power granted to her in a similar manner by Shivetya, a much more beneficent donor.

Other victims of the Rite of Naming in the Annals belonged to the new Taken:

  • Blister and Scorn were both subjected to the Rite of Naming by the Lady on the Plain of Fear for betraying and attempting to murder her: "The Lady called upon that power she held over them and they ceased to be Taken. [...] buzzards—real buzzards—were circling before we returned to the Hole."[3]
  • all the remaining new Taken were were subjected to the Rite of Naming in a cascade effect when Silent closed the rite to disarm the Lady at the Battle of the Barrowland. She had created a sorcery "dead-man's trigger" such that her Taken would suffer the same fate in the event of her naming:
I heard screaming. Carpets were raining. All those Taken had been Taken by the Lady herself, and after what had happened on the Plain, she had made certain her fate would be their fate. So now they were undone, and soon dead. Not much magic left on that field.
  • Some years later, Hagop reported that, of the new Taken, only Whisper, Journey, Blister, Creeper, and Learned had survived the events in the north but that "Lady stripped all five of their powers. In front of witnesses."[4] Hagop's mention of Blister is unexpected here, because it was strongly suggested that Blister and Scorn were killed after their earlier Rite of Naming[5]; it is conceivable he spoke the name Blister when he meant to say Benefice. But if he was not mistaken, and Blister indeed somehow survived, this would indicate that Benefice was killed at the Battle of the Barrowland.

Rite of Taking[]

Main article: Rite of Taking

Croaker believed that knowing the true name of a victim wizard was a prerequisite for performing the Rite of Taking, which is a nightmarish ritual available only to the most skilled practitioners:

[Soulcatcher] might [do a Taking of Longshadow]. But she might not have enough to work with where Longshadow is concerned. She might need to know his true name. We know he’s got that hidden in the Shadowgate spell.[6]

The Rite of Taking is an immensely complex process, and only the Dominator, the Master, and the Lady were known to have correctly executed this spell.

Usage in other spells[]

The sorcerer Longshadow was forced to use the power of his true name to patch up preexisting spells that had been damaged. He, his apprentice Shadowspinner, and several other would-be Shadowmasters accidentally damaged the homeworld's Shadowgate. Desperate to seal it, Longshadow used his own true name in the fabric of the spells during his crude repair effort. This meant the lethal shadows knew his name, and any which leaked through would hunt for him specifically. Driven nearly mad by paranoia about this eventuality, Longshadow built the towering fortress of Overlook to protect himself. But a benefit was that his apprentices and enemies would dare not kill him: his death would render his true name powerless, which would break the Shadowgate, bringing an onslaught of death from the glittering plain into the homeworld.


  1. Shadow Games ch. 39
  2. The White Rose ch. 57
  3. The White Rose ch. 45
  4. Bleak Seasons ch. 91
  5. The White Rose ch. 45
  6. She Is the Darkness ch. 65