Looking back at the masterpiece that is Death Note, one can't help but feel in awe of all the intricacies and intellect poured upon the series. With each episode or each new chapter I felt that I was actually getting smarter, which is definitely a hard task to pull off for any story. One of the key focuses of the story was the importance of names. Knowing someone's name literally meant life or death in the series as the Death Note provided that kind of power. Write the full name of the person you want dead and watch the dark artifact in action. Like many fans, I personally purchased a replica of a Death Note but never wrote on it, just to be safe. This shows you how much of an impact the show really did have by giving us fear and paranoia that the books may actually exist and have that kind of power. For the two characters central to the bulk of the story, hiding their real names was of the utmost importance. For Kira, anyone who would discover his real name meant either of two things, that he would eventually get caught or that he would have to kill that person via the Death note. One the other side of the coin we have L, whose real name if discovered would assuredly lead to his death since he was investigating and trying to figure out who Kira is. The story is amazingly designed with this struggle of being able to subtly discover the others' name in order to destroy them. This adds a layer of depth and emotion that made the series widely popular.
Of course, this core struggle does have an inspiration. Our names have an impact we may or may not be aware of. Whatever you do in your life is tied to your name. Each action, each decision, each achievement, mistake, fulfillment or failure defines who you are and is marked by the one thing that is truly yours, a name. Some names are remembered long after the person behind it is forgotten. Others are obscured into history and is replaced eventually as time progresses. With so much limited choices for a name, we as humans even decided to put in second names and a last name to differentiate with one another. A name is essentially a person's identity and I'm sure that if you hear the name John or Jane, someone is likely to come to mind.
One of the things that people do to mask their identity and change who they are is to use a fake name. This allows them to put the blame on another name and another person and not necessarily their own selves. This is one of the core reasons why the characters in Death Note where able to personify a different side of themselves and at most bend their humanity to achieve their goals.
Even now your name is important and it is even essential to protect your name in many different situations. Over history, and extending even today, names are gratified, worshiped and bestowed. Some cultures revere and give great importance to names while some stories come to tell tales of different names. Let's take a trip through time and around the world to find out more about them:
History and Culture of Names
There is a certain power in knowing names, or rather a true name. In fact a lot of texts whether religious, fictional or historical talks about people gaining power through knowledge of true names. This may be one of the reasons why deities have numerous names to hide their real identity. It may also be the very reason why it was taboo to tell someone your true name in ancient times; especially if it was a stranger. Many believed that if you actually knew a being of power’s true name then you would have access to that said power. Other belief systems even warned of treading carefully when trying to discover names as it may cause dire consequences especially if the entity is powerful enough. In some cultures it is believed that once you know the true name of a person you would be able to create a hold or bondage upon them. The knowledge of someone’s true name can lead to you having total control of that person. This may also be one of the reasons why people had strict burial rituals where names where engraved or passed on to the gods. For many past cultures names were forbidden for to be repeated due to people possibly abusing power, causing catastrophes or reviving the dead. Knowing someone’s name is also a very popular theme of folklore. Stories like Rumplestiltskin were defined by knowledge of a name that could bring about freedom. A lot of novels, pop culture shows, movies and even anime have adapted this longstanding trend. In Death Note, knowing someone’s true name was a central theme of the story.
Even before written history people were already identifying themselves with names. In fact, a lot of the time tribes and cultures of the past had names given to them by society and not only their parents. These names were of high importance and it was necessary for customs. It was also taboo for a lot of the people during ancient times to reveal their names to strangers. There are many ways to determine the name of a baby during this period. Some looked to the gods, ancestors and totems to name their children. Others derive them from great events. Others use a play on words to give important qualities to their children. In some other cultures, the name given during their birth is only the first of many names they will have in life. You'll find that in all of these examples, many of them are still used today. Interestingly, most cultures still retain a naming ceremony and this practice is present not only among tribes but in different countries and religions as well. We have the Christian and Catholic baptism to officially bestow a name upon a baby and most tribes in Africa have different ways to confirm and give a name.
In some cultures and countries, the names were often an analog of the meaning the word had. In olden times, countries like the Philippines named a lot of their children based on values they wanted their children to possess. A few names that were given back then were Maganda (beautiful) or Makisig (handsome). In Greek culture, babies were named based off gods hoping to instill in them the power, characteristics and value that god possessed. Some children were named Aphrodite, Athena, or Hera while other children were named after great heroes like Hector, Perseus or Ajax.
Names and Pop Culture
This is probably the trend that's most used today. A lot of children today are named based on events or popular names. As such you may find people named after characters from Naruto, Bleach or Attack on Titan. Some years ago during the prime of popularity of Death Note, we'd find children named Light, L, Kira or Misa (yes people actually named their children L). Ironically, there might actually even be a chance that somewhere out there are two best friends named Light and L.
Importance of Names in the Modern World
Though at the surface, names may not have that much of a defining impact as it did in history, it's still important to guard your name in a lot of situations. Remember that people can now easily search others through social media and it only takes someone with enough dedication to eventually know where you live, how much you earn, and even places you frequent. These things wouldn't be possible if they didn't have knowledge your full name (or actual name). Continuously be wary of strangers trying to aggressively learn your name, names can often be used to steal identities and often times a tainted name is enough to destroy someone's reputation.
Remember that the name you have now, even if you dislike it or not will be the one that sets you apart from a wide sea of faces. Cherish and regard your name as well as the names you hold dear. Even if the world forgets, or even if time and events obscure them, there will always be one person who'll cherish those names the most. That will be you.