Every person born into the world is given a name, that name defines whom they are and will be for the rest of their lives. In A Wizard of Earthsea, each person born is given a name to be called and for a while that name is his or her identity. However, when a child in this world is ready to take on the passage to adulthood, they learn their true name. The idea of names or naming has long been practiced in our society because it helps give meaning to the world around us; the same is true in Earthsea.
At the beginning we learn that the protagonist of the story is named Duny, named so by his late mother, thus the name he is given is one thrust upon him and not truly his own. As soon as he turns thirteen though, he is immediately stripped of his name and sent out naked and nameless into the springs. The way Duny learns his true name is parallel of that of a newborn coming into the world, naked and nameless. As the story goes along we learn how names aren’t simply a tool used to identify something, its used to hold essence over that something, everything it is and can be. Guin also hints that knowing something’s name gives you both control and accesses to it, including its very life. Therefore a person must guard their true name from others because access to their name means vulnerability and control over their very existence.
Names can also be used to form bonds though, whether through power over the names of nature and elements or in the bonds of friendship. When Vetch tells Ged that his name is “Estarriol”, Ged returns the favor because “Vetch had given that gift only a friend can give, the proof of unshaken, unshakable trust” (Guin 68-9). Vetch convinced Ged of his trust because he shared his true name, giving the power over that name to Ged to lie in his safekeeping, suggesting that while it might be vulnerable to do so, sharing a name is the most sacred oath a person could give because it inspires absolute trust.
Another factor about the names in Ged’s world is that nearly everything on it has a given name but also has a secret, true name. The true name of things such wind or fog or herbs allows wizards or prentices such as Ged to take control of the entire thing in question has to offer. Knowing a name is power. Which is why when Ged is learning the names in the Isolate Tower he learns from Kurremkarmerruk that many great mages spend their “whole [lives] to find out the name of one single thing” (46-7). Names are the true power wizards or mages use and to learn name after true name means that you can accumulate power or that to seek out the name of even one thing grants a person great power.