With a protagonist known as “The Nameless One” you might expect that names have a important place in Planescape: Torment’s narrative. You’d be right – everywhere you go, you meet characters with interesting nomenclature and perspectives thereon. In mythology and story-telling, knowing a creatures true name can often be a way of controlling it – this was used in the Neverwinter Nights Hordes of the Underdark
expansion, for example. The very concept of a “true” name is questioned in PS:T – does the given name, or the chosen name, have more meaning? Which of the two is more “true”?
In the Dead Nations, TNO can meet a Nameless Zombie who is distraught at the fact that she has lost her name. In this TNO sees a reflection of himself. Although he is searching for more than just his name (his memories and mortality as well) after enough deaths he will gradually lose himself entirely, and could be left an empty shell like the zombie, shuffling around aimlessly in the dark. The Nameless Zombie thinks her name can be found in the Drowned Nations catacombs, though in fact her tomb has been defaced and her name on it is unreadable. The Drowned Nations do however hold the secret to TNO’s name, in the form of the Bronze Sphere, which we find out much later contains the last memories of TNO before he lost himself. Learning this gives an absolutely massive experience point reward, suggesting that through learning his true name, The Named One has realised the strength and potential gained by *knowing* oneself. As Dak’kon might put it.
One of the things that makes PS:T so immersive are the NPCs populating Sigil, many of whom have provocative names of their own. Many must be assumed to be acquired nicknames based on traits the character possesses. These can be obvious: Yellow Fingers, Copper Eyes, Iron Nails, Marrow Friend. Others are more subtle: Scofflaw Penn’s name for example gives us clues as to his Faction (one that scoffs at the law) and his profession as an eminent scribbler. You might wonder why the Festhall lecturer Ghysis is known as the Crooked, only to find out later his dark past and how he escaped the Blood War. Kimaaxsi Addertongue has a foul mouth, Able Ponderthought spends his time pontificating, and the Chaosman curser Jumble literally murders sense. Awaiting-Death does just that. But there are a few exceptions, names that seem ill matched with their owner. Merriman is definitely not merry, and Candrian Illborne is the perfect gentleman. Stuff like that.
A popular reoccurring form of name in PS:T contains three parts: Fall-from-Grace, for example. There’s also Many-as-One, Mourns-for-Trees, and Death-of-Desire. Exactly why Fall-from-Grace thinks she has fallen is not clear, given that she has elevated herself from the brutish existence of the Tanar’ri. Maybe she has lost something by going against her natural instincts as a demon, and this reflects in her choice of name. A similar case would be Fell, the Dabus who disobeyed the Lady. His name too indicates loss. Nordom chooses his name in a typically logical fashion, by reversing his species name of Modron. This too indicates how he feels himself to be cast outside of his natural role and purpose, to be everything not-Modron, essentially.
There are also names that are shout-outs to more famous bearers of the same title. Juliette and Montague obviously reference to Romeo and Juliet
. The blind Chaosman Tiresias shares his name with another blind character in Greek mythology, and the dead artist in Weeping Stone Catacombs, Chad, was a reference to a Bioware employee. Last (and probably least) we have “punny” names, like Ignus and Morte (the “mort” pun gets used again with the character Mortai Gravesend). Curst and Carceri sound like puns too, but as they existed before PS:T I guess we can let them off. Although seen as a low form of humour, pun names do communicate something about their characters immediately, and so can be useful.
These are just my thoughts on names in Torment. Whether it’s better or not that TNO be nameless might seem not clear. A previous incarnation did say: “Fear names. Names have power in identity. Others can use names as weapons. Names are a hook that can be used to track you across the planes. Remain nameless, and you shall be safe. I am the Nameless One
.” Reekwind shares this opinion, saying “Remain nameless, and you shall be as a spirit on the planes, untraceable, untrackable, unseen, undiscovered... A name chosen, a name given... it allows others to find you and hurt you.
” However, in the end through knowing himself, and his name, TNO gains more power than if he had hidden. Learning his name becomes a metaphor for *knowing* himself, in Githzerai terms, and for taking responsibility for the crimes his incarnations caused, the worst of which was becoming immortal in the first place. So although we never find out what it was, discovering TNO’s name could be seen as the ultimate goal of PS:T.