On the Naming of Swords

Apr 4, 2017 | Swordplay


I was reminded of this by a post on Facebook: people name their swords. I understand the rationale behind it. The act of naming the sword anthropomorphizes it, so that the act of swordplay becomes a kind of partnership. There is a significance in the name of a sword passed down through generations, in that the sword takes on a life of its own.

It’s a curious thing about humanity, this way we have of granting personhood to inanimate objects. I’m not sure what psychological theory is behind it, to be honest, but I find it rather fascinating. I like to explore themes of identity, and there is nothing more fundamental to identity than having a name. Names have power. Giving a name to a thing gives it power. The ancient Vikings appreciated this in that only a weapon with a name could be blessed or enchanted, apparently. We still feel the need to name things like ships.

Why, though? There’s a longstanding tradition of naming ships. But we don’t name our cars, or planes, or trains, for example, even though they’re basically another form of transport. No, they get an identifying number, and thus they are relegated to the status of mere machines. Ships with names, even swords with names, are granted a soul. Call it superstition, I suppose; a holdover from an age where travelers were at the mercy of their ship in dangerous waters, and it must have been a comfort to think of the vessel as an entity in its own right who was just as invested in survival as they were.

But I don’t have a name for my sword.

I suppose I have to buck tradition. My sword is not a partner, nor a friend or comrade. It has no soul. It’s a fine sword, of course, but it is still a forged length of steel, and nothing more. I invest it with no sense of personhood or identity.

My sword in my hand is a part of me. It is an extension of my arm, myself, my soul. I can feel the weight and balance of it as if it’s another limb. A swing and a cut, and it moves around me as surely as if I had reached out my hand and swept the air with my palm. It doesn’t need a name, because it is not separate from me.

This is my sword. There are many like it, but this one is mine, as familiar to me as the sound of my own name. It is an aspect of my identity, where I am a swordfighter, therefore I have a sword. Of course, I give it significance greater than, say, the chair on which I sit, but it will forever remain part of a greater whole.

Identity, and how we perceive it, is a strange and wondrous thing.