In my fantasy world there exists an order of monks known as the Noncara/Non Cara (haven't decided which form looks better). The Non Cara practice a theology based solely on works. By this I mean: they believe in works/deeds alone. How this manifests is the Monks renounce their former selves, livelihoods, and even renounce their own names. The Monks now freed from the constrictions of notoriety are able to do their holy work without recognition. Since they believe recognition and fame distract and even diminish one's deeds (since they'd be done for fame instead of "God" so to speak).

However, I've run into a slight issue. While designing their outfit was easy: simple black robes with the only identifying feature being a "dreaming eye" on the hood and their armor would be likewise simple and painted black with their helmets being simple with only a dreaming eye being identifiable. The issue I've run into is how would they communicate if they don't and can't take names? How could they in conversations distinguish between one another?

Note: This is mainly about speech.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Two-four-six-oh-oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonnne! -Victor Hugo $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @DevNull Can confirm. Just wait until you see the other 24600 of us $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ ♪ Non Cara Non Mia Non Addio ♪ $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ If their theology is based on works, is there some countable amount of "credit" (time, tick marks on robe, etc) they get for their works that would identify them? Having a theology of works and renouncing notoriety seem mutually exclusive. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 18:19

20 Answers 20


They don't actually need names.

Names aren't used that often in everyday communication. Body language is very effective for indicating which person in a group you're talking to. And to get somebody's attention, simply call out "brother!" in their direction, and look at the person you're referring to.

The only other situations where you use names are when you're referring to somebody in a 3rd-person situation:

  • Did you see what Bob's wearing?
  • Remember when we hung out at Sarah's place last month?
  • Have you seen Bill around here recently?

But the thing with these situations is that they're all referring to that person's individual identity, which is what the order of monks is trying to remove. These conversations wouldn't be possible at all, but that's the point.

You never talk about somebody behind their back, or express admiration, because all members of the brotherhood are equivalent: nobody's the leader, nobody's more or less intelligent, stronger or weaker than anybody.

You never ask where your buddy is, because any member of the order will suffice for whatever you need right now. Nobody has any expertise, any reason to be more needed than anybody else: they're all interchangeable.

This will cause some problems:

  • There's no leadership, so the order can't grow to a very large size without organizational problems.
  • There's no system of allocating talent to needs: the really good carpenter is equally likely to be asked to work on repairing a chair or picking fruit. This means that some skills are wasted.
  • There's no system of social rewards: people who do good deeds don't get recognized, people who behave badly are not reprimanded.

But all of these problems are derived from the lack of individual identity, not the lack of names.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 For actually making (theological) sense of not using names. The other answers mostly look for a loophole to reinvent names without calling them names. $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ There is a system for matching skills to talents: The one who sees the need for carpentry is likely to be the best carpenter. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ GIving up your identity doesn't mean you never refer to a specific monk (note that this is not the same as a specific identity). For example, if one of the monks has caught a contagious disease, it's quite relevant to know which monk has it. Similarly, not every monk will have the exact same skillset, so you still want a particular monk doing a particular job, even if only in emergencies (e.g. don't send the 80 year old to save the other monks from a burning building). Lack of identity is no the same as lack of distinction. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think this answer could be improved by giving the closest translation to the phrases that don't make sense to the monks. For instance, "Did you see what Bob is wearing?" might translate to something like, "Did you see that someone is wearing unusual clothes?", which doesn't refer to a particular individual. Instead, it refers to an unnamed person performing a particular action. The closest translation of "Remember when we hung out at Sarah's place last month?" might be "There was a gathering at someone's house last month" because a monk can't refer to himself or his conversation partner. $\endgroup$
    – Vaelus
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Vaelus This brings up an interesting question - do these monks still refer to people outside their order by name? Presumbly they would, and therefore we might infer that if "Sarah" has a "place" then she is not a member of the order, as without an identity one cannot enter into legally binding contacts such as property ownership or rentals as these require such an identity. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 20:55

If your group renounces their personal identity in favor of their work, the obvious thing to call them by is profession. If a particular brother is responsible for the monastery gardens, he's Brother Gardner. If he's responsible for their walls, he's Brother Mason. If he's responsible for their horseshoes and swords, he's Brother Smith. You'll note that these are all actual last names, because this system was for a long time quite a popular way to create nicknames if you needed to distinguish between, say, two Joneses. In a way, you've simply recreated such a society, only everyone has the same "name".

Now, this does leave the question of what to do with apprentices, those who haven't yet demonstrated that they should be allowed into a trade. In day-to-day conversation, they don't need to be called anything, but it's useful for their elders to have some way to tell which of the young whippersnappers they're discussing. You could have them sponsored by an older member, whose name/title they take until they get one of "their own": Brother Smith and his novice, Brother Smith's Apprentice. Or, they could have some kind of title based on something more arbitrary: what room they sleep in, what day they came to the monastery, some kind of defining physical characteristic.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 18:59

Precise Pseudo-Pronouns

In addition to developing a system along the lines of Cadence's answer, they seem to be a good candidate for developing a pseudo-pronoun system based on deeds or locations known to the residents of the monastery. E.g. Resident of the Second Kitchen-Adjacent Cell, One Who Fell Into the Well Once, Late Night Copier etc. These are 'pronouns' in the sense that they are used in place of (instead of) names, but not really pronouns in that they aren't standardised like normal pronouns in common languages are.

The fact that fame is considered bad, and that the monks do not want those pseudo-pronouns to turn into de facto names will mean that there will be some social pressure to not use the same reference too many times, and instead people will try to mix up different ways to refer to someone. Perhaps more recent deeds will be given preference because they're easier to remember. Also keep in mind that such a system would rely heavily on the community knowing each other's daily activities, which would likely pair well with a more collectivist approach to life - something that'd be right at home in a monastery.

  • $\begingroup$ Could I have a example of a name? I'm intrigued but not entirely sure what your idea would look like $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor But I did list the examples: Resident of the Second Kitchen-Adjacent Cell, One Who Fell Into the Well Once, and Late Night Copier. These are meant to refer to people based on typical location, an event of misfortune and perhaps carelessness, and a typical timing of performing a certain deed. If my choice of examples is in some way unhelpful, could you please suggest what I should change about them / add to them? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know how I missed that my bad. I might use your idea for the older monks. With younger monks having a single word maybe. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ If they can't have names then people (especially the villagers or anyone else who has regular contact) will invent labels for them: Fatty, Beanpole, Redhead, Four-finger, Herbal-medicine guy... $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 9:04

This makes the Order very personal

Renouncing one's name for the sake of monkhood means giving up all the things that are personal: including privacy. If embraced, it would create an incredibly strong and trusting bond between the brothers.

  • If you need to speak with someone, you must walk toward them such that they can see you speaking directly to them, alleviating all need for personal nouns in the conversation.

  • If you need to inform someone (person B) of another's (person C) disposition, you would be forced to bring person B to person C's presence for the sake of that conversation. E.G., "there is one among us who has fallen ill and cannot continue with his duties, may I take you to him?"

This would certainly slow down communication as physical travel time is now required to avoid personal identification. But, like I said, it would create an intense brotherhood and demand substantial trust, honesty, etc. (E.G., "I observed one who has violated rule 23.3(d) of our Order, may I take you to him?" of course, you'd better be right about that infraction of 23.3(d).)

The problem is with war, but for that purpose you might require titles

Planning a battle could be done as previously described. It would be slow, but it would of necessity be thorough. However, there is need for long-distance communication during battle. And that's a problem.

  • One option is that your no-personal-noun Monks have no involvement in combat.

  • The other option is that personal pronouns (titles) come into use in combat. But I personally think this stinks because it basically breaks your rule that there's no personal pronouns. If permitted, they would quickly become the defacto "name" for that person (such is the case in some Convent orders where Nuns adopt a name, e.g., "Mary Margaret"). But now we have a personal name. If you're serious about the personal name rule, I can't see how you can permit the monks to be involved in combat other than singly, farmed out to (e.g.) governments/armies as-needed, like you might a wizard. In this case they would always be referred to as "brother" an no personally-identifying pronoun would ever be used or needed. The moment you allow two of them together will require personal pronouns ("hey! Brother-who-took-an-arrow-in-the-arm-last-week!")

But! Have hope! Because I can think of one way around this: random names that change every time the brotherhood is assembled to battle. There is a Holy Urn filled with slips of paper, each having the name of a Saint, or mythic hero, or some random word. With each assembly, the Brethren draw names and use them only for the time the assembly was called. Once the Assembled Brethren are dismissed, the names are no longer used. Thus, no one has a permanent personal noun and the habit is to not use them other than when necessary.

And as I think about it, with each "name" can come a diadem or some other marker worn by the brother-who-drew-that-name such that people are recognizing the diadem, not the brother, by name.

Where will you have problems?

With the local townsfolk, or anyone else not of the Order who must conduct business with the Order. People would quickly figure out the very personal way of speaking to people (eye-to-eye, direct to your face), but that nagging habit of calling Frank by his name just won't go away! Why did he have to join the Order Frank (I mean, "brother")? Why?

Anyway, relationships with people outside the Order will always cause friction, especially if that blonde-brother-with-the-bedroom-eyes-and-roving-hands happens to touch your daughter again.

  • Ideally, the Order is self-sufficient and has no need to interact with the outside world other than in emergencies.

  • If not, CDE, you're hosed, because the outside world will eventually demand individual recognition — probably when the first crime occurs, but certainly when the first batch of taxes are owed, IMO.

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    $\begingroup$ for the most part the order like most monasteries would be self sufficient. I'm thinking some along the lines of your draw of the hat idea could work. Maybe it would be names of items ex: tree, sky, rock, etc. So the monks would have a "campaign name", but once the campaign is over they go through a ceremony to renounce their campaign name. That way it's seen more as a necessary evil that they later atone for. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ Battle name: "The Brother with the Third Legion". Or just say "the Third Legion" if context makes it clear that you are talking about a Brother. Reassign them often. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ +1 BTW, the draw a name method is used in A Song of Ice and Fire for the Unsullied (though as a way to de-humanize the slave soldiers). "Grey Worm" is named thus because that was the insulting name that he pulled out of the pot on the day that he was freed. $\endgroup$
    – kuhl
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ You are so mean. Whenever I think "But that would imply this" or "I'd add that anyway", this or that are just what your next paragraph is about xD ... there is, however, one thing I can still add: Since the monks are very personal amongst each other and the order believes in deeds, propably including fighting, they should easily be able to form a common identity where even outsiders can reference them as "brother/s" and taxes and crime accusation could be adressed to the order itself. Bedroom eyes are not a problem. The orde has rules for it but since it's about actions, it should be fine. $\endgroup$
    – hajef
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor I think that would give far too much credit to these references. If you have to quickly comunicate tactics in a fight, go along with any reference, and as soon as that's not needed anymore, just drop it. They might even use the object-trick there too: give names to the swords or give them colored belts or something like this (that are randomely picked before every fight). $\endgroup$
    – hajef
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 15:03

The issue I've run into is how would they communicate if they don't and can't take names? How could they in conversations distinguish between one another?

  • serial number: extremely depersonificating, it is what the nazi did with the prisoners in the concentration camps.
  • nick name: changing name to renounce to your former self is already what every real monastic order imposes on its members, and for your specific question it can be made a constant recall for humility if slightly derogatory or humiliating, i.e. brother Baldy, or brother Smelly Mouth.
  • wearing a label: something as simple as a piece of cloth with a symbol on it, maybe even changed every day. Today one will be brother star, tomorrow brother bird, the day after tomorrow brother circle. Not exactly the best method if you want to keep some accountability, though.
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    $\begingroup$ Why am I mr pink? Why can't I be mr purple? $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ What do you call the Monk wearing the red shirt? $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell Dead $\endgroup$
    – Brian R
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Serial numbers kind of imply a pecking order based on seniority, though. Better use a UUID. $\endgroup$
    – fluffy
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ Why go for concentration camps? Assigning numbers to the inmates is what many cuntries including the US do in their prisons even today. But that aside, using nicknames to reference the brothers contradicts the whish not to reference people. If deeds speak louder than words, we want as little references as possible and have to find the use cases where we have no choice and than find the minimal reference possible. $\endgroup$
    – hajef
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 15:22

Doesn't referring to a specific individual (somewhat) defeat the purpose of the order?

Addressing people by profession means they are being recognised for something.

The question we need to ask is, at what times is it hardest to achieve something without names?

So here are my answers and potential solutions. Note that in some cases, things are going to end up being less efficient, but the monks believe it's a worthwhile trade-off.

1. Getting someone's attention.

Let's say in a room with several monks, Brother A sees Brother B with a toolbox and wants to ask whether he has a chisel. Or, Brother B seems to be carrying something to the wrong place. Brother A would refer to Brother B by his location or activity (e.g. Brother with the toolbox, etc.) The reference is based on the immediate situation, rather than the person's identity.

2. Expertise.

Bob can speak Latin. Bob can carve wood expertly. Bob remembers which of the hundred shelves a particular scroll is on.

Well, too bad. The monks gather several times a day for several reasons, one being that someone can ask the whole congregation for someone with such skills/experience/knowledge.

3. Division of responsibility. Scheduling.

Building a chapel requires someone to come up with a plan, someone to co-ordinate the work, and many to perform parts of the labour. Too many cooks spoil the broth and so forth. Similarly, if something must be done in shifts (watching the flame, ringing bells) then some system is needed for scheduling who is where at what time.

In this case, at meetings people are asked to volunteer for jobs/roles, and they raise their hands to claim the task, and then know it is their duty to show up and perform it. Nobody else need know who they are. Alternatively, they can place black marks on a roster or responsibility chart and, in cases where needed, be present at a meeting place at particular times so that others can co-ordinate with them without knowing who they are.

4. Training.

This one is not so much a question of names but more an ongoing teacher-student relationship which implies recognising someone and gaining respect for them. While it may be seen as a "necessary evil", an alternative is to intentionally rotate teachers and students, and encourage a "seeker/scholar" approach to learning whereby a student pursues knowledge and skills so it really doesn't matter if they consult a different person each day; indeed perhaps it is quite beneficial. In addition, there can be an emphasis on "teachers" writing down their knowledge anonymously and "students" reading it.

5. Referring to third parties.

Brother X is missing! Is he ill? We need someone to fill his place! Well, that's what the frequent meetings are for. If Brother X is ill, he can let someone know what his task was and that person will announce it without having to name Brother X.

Or let's say Brother Y doesn't realise he's good/bad at something. Can you warn others? No. You just have to tell him, and it's his responsibility to act accordingly. That's how the order works.

Brother A knows that B possesses an item that brother C needs. But A cannot identify B to C. A can simply tell C that someone has the item and during one of the meetings it can be requested. There are no secrets in the order; after all, they would be a selfish thing.

  • $\begingroup$ Property is theft! Or more specifically for your last example, the monks would not posses anything, if they are not using the chisel then the chisel should be where the chisel belongs. If the chisel is not where it belongs then someone is using it and seeking it would not be productive. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure about property in this kind of monastery, but point 4 is propably not a "necessary evil" but the real deal and one of the main points of the order. If they believe in deeds rather than fame, than training in small groups would be ideal to learn the true value of your fellow monks. You can't do sparring without coming to know your opponant. Monks would easily learn who is skilled and would try to learn from them - not tell anyone else but know it and act on it. "Respect the ones who are skilled and who do great deeds based on what you see, not what you hear" could be their dogma. $\endgroup$
    – hajef
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ relying on a gathering to dole out work seems to contradict the goal. It means instead of being some guy working in the background with a work order, your skill set is made very public before the entire brotherhood. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 16:54

Job title-based names as suggested in other answers are a good functional work around but would ultimately go against the anti-notoriety philosophy of the monks. Once you start to regularly distinguish between the 'late night copier' and 'the late afternoon copier' it won't take long for people to work out that one is more efficient than the other (or uses up more/less candles).

A system of temporary names would be more egalitarian. In most individual interactions you don't need to specify a name as it is obvious who you are speaking to. However, where a small group of monks had to participate in a group activity such as cooking a meal or engaging in warfare they could assign names for the duration of the job. As long as these names only existed for the length of the activity it would be difficult for an individual monk to gain a reputation that applied beyond those who had directly worked with them and recognised them.

Rapid rotation of monks between jobs would also help. If the same monks always cook and other monks always fight they will gain an appreciation of each others qualities regardless of even a rigorous prohibition on names.

  • $\begingroup$ This is truly inline with the questions parameter. However, this kind of society (small scale, but it still is) can't function properly. Monks with zero knowledge about mushroom would cook poisonous broth. Military operations are even trickier. Even if they can assign temporary names, which should be wearer, otherwise none will remember who is who right now, it would end up catastrophic. You have to accept the trade-offs and come up roundabout ways to diminish personal notoriety why recognizing skill. It seems I should expand my own answer inline with this. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Lupus Yes - I'm well aware. The question doesn't seem to require that the society function especially well or for a long time. Even if it did, bad ideas can often turn out to be remarkably long-lived in societies if there is a high degree of buy in from the participants and no major external threats. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean_Condon They are intended as a kind of combatants who protect the persecuted. It is in a comment, not in the question itself so you are right. Especially the second part. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean Condon talent isn't a problem. So seeking out a monk egos good at carpentry if perfectly fine since that is his skill. The idea is they are all equals without name, but obviously some are better at certain tasks then others. How they rationalize this is as long as hey use these skills for the order and not themselves that's fine. Seeing as externally it would be the entire order say building that castle, or the entire order tending the fields. I hope that makes sense. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ In that case, they could just have secret names that only other members know right? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 11:41

You mentioned them wearing armor. This means they will fight in some capacity. Since you require them to communicate with each other, that means they are not solitary wanderers. This means, sooner or later, they will fight in group battles.

You may want to start solving the naming problem from this angle. For effective combat, they need clear and constant identifiers and solid hierarchy. You don't want to accidentally messing it up and sending your weakest monk to reinforce the gates. Otherwise, they WILL be streamlined with any slightly organized and tactical army.

The other answers are spot on. Use a symbol and a number. I just checked up on Star Wars clone trooper "names". Your monks can take their best weapons or roles and add numbers to it. Sword 22, Spear 12, Bow 42, Smith 2, Cook 7...

For the apprentices use colors or simple things. Ash 12, Pebble 7, Idiot 143, ...

You may want to add something extra but short, like letters, in case monks from different monasteries gather at one place, and they use the same system.

It came up in other answers, so I'll expand my answer in line with this.

The monks have to be able to recognize skill and experience in each other. If they don't, they will be incredible dangerous to themselves. They would waste resources, work slowly and ineffectively. Think an idiot, inexperienced forager gathering poisonous mushrooms, bad smith doing sloppy work at their armor and weapons, etc.

You have to have trade-offs and alternative solutions. History, especially religion already given us one such option:

Many mix up notoriety and recognition with identifiers. Actually, Christianity solved this problem already. One of the seven sins is Pride! That's taking pleasure in one owns notoriety and recognition.

Those living in accordance to the religious teaching don't accept any kind of recognition as their own work, both inwardly (in their mind) and outwardly (in speech) they attribute their own skills to their god's guidance, forbearance, ...

Their skill level still linked to their identifiers and that accumulate recognition (it must, so they can function properly), but its always passed on, directed toward their god. Refused in every opportunity to be attributed to them personally.

  • $\begingroup$ I planned for them to be kinda like sheikhs defending other faiths that are persecuted. I'm thinking maybe numbers could work if it's done kinda,like how the Romans named slaves after numbers and just changed up the names for different masters. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @CelestialDragonEmperor The exact purpose isn't that important for the combat. I wager there will be groups persecuting other faiths, so unless one monk can take on any size of opponent group and reasonable win (even the cost of his life), they will fight in groups of their own. That's require coordination and clear cut identifiers to be effective, as mentioned above. But like I said, if they remain mostly constant, not situation dependent, the other answers are very good. Just keep the combat effectiveness angle in mind. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ A number is just another form of name though $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ For an amusing take on this issue, see also "The Team-Mate Reference Problem in Final-Stage Demon Confrontation" by Constance Cooper. It's been read on Escape Pod. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Yay Second Spear-carrier. (Like in Shakespeare.) $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 9:00

They just point and say "you!" when referring to each other.

If a monk is not present, they refer to the individual by the deed, like "the forger of this blade", since their faith holds deeds and works as important.

Conversation about someone which is not deed-related would be avoided. They'd not speculate on what a monk likes, or thinks, only does, so there should always be a deed they can refer to. They would avoid the use of such identifiers as a permanent identifier for a particular individual, so although the monk-who-farted-during-morning-prayers would be gossip for the day, they'd not use that phrase to identify the same guy when he injures himself; it'd be "the-monk-who-cut-himself is over by the cornfield". The monks would work hard on not associating fixed labels on each other.


I've seen this get touched in other answers, but to specify:

Titles belong to an office, not a person.

Abbot is a title, and if a name isn't attached, any notoriety goes to the office, not the office holder (although many will attribute things to the current holder.)

Abbot Bob gives credit to Bob, the Abbot of the Order gives credit to the office and the order.

The same goes for combat. You will have the Marshall, Generals of specific arms, Captains, Lieutenants, etc.

So the Marshall can give an order to the General of Foot, who sends the order to the Sargent of the Red Banner, who passes it along to his soldiers.

Again, praise would go to the Red Banner, not any soldier within. This already happens with military units... By only using titles, even if one monk acted above and beyond, the best you could say is that a soldier of the Red Banner acted bravely.

Additionally, with proper training, soldiers don't have to be micromanaged. The general plans with Captains who briefs his Lieutenants who expect his Ensigns to act independently to plan with squads small enough that eye contact and weapon IDs are all you need. The Ensign orders his machine gunner to provide cover.

Offices and ranks change hands. You can even enforce a rotation policy... A valorious Soldier of the Red Banner might rotate to the gardens, and this is well known, so people don't bother trying to ID somebody even by position.

Using direct communication, jobs, and titles when hierarchy is necessary would allow you to avoid names whilst also ensuring that external praise goes to the order or the office or department, as it becomes frustrating to get more accurate... Your frustration actually proves that it is working.


Let's consider the goal before going too deep into the question itself. These monks are trying to eliminate personal reputations, while also creating an orderly and militarized society.

Many suggested solutions that involve taking away names actually do more to put the individual in the spotlight. For example, if someone has to call a gathering to ask for a carpenter, then every carpenter will have to reveal their skillset to the group. This becomes even less anonymous than a name on a work order somewhere because then total strangers will be able to see you in passing and know who and what you are without even needing a name.

Titles such as "brother master carpenter" also have invese effects on containing reputation, because you are again identifying a person by their works and talents. Every time someone sees that person they are reminded of that person's talents.

For this reason, the goal instead should be to separate the person's work life from the community. When you go to work, you work in silence and obscure your appearance as much as possible such as you would with a Burqa. At work, you have no name, and to work with your identity revealed is considered obscene. Work places would be built around privacy. If you are to design a bridge, then several engineers would draft their plans in private rooms and put them into a drop box one at a time so they do not see each other's work. If you are farmers, then you would work a different field each day so that the quality of a crop in one place does not reflect on the farmer that works that land.

In cases where more organization is needed, a number, color, or token is assigned to a person just for that job. That way the soldier with the green 32 knows his exact rank-and-file during a military campaign, but when the battle is done, he is no longer green 32, and if he goes back to war again, he does so as red 13. That way, even if people start talking about how Green 32 killed 20 barbarians, it's just going to be a different guy next month anyway; so, everyone who tells the story understands what they are really saying is "someone killed 20 barbarians".

By obscuring who you are when you do things of note, there is then no need to take away a person's name. Your name could still be John, all your friends could call your John, but at work you are just one of many unnamed persons. While your Burqa is on, you could be a general in the army or coal miner, but when you go home, you are just John and no one else needs to know the difference.


It occurs to me that this question already has a very precise real world answer.

Monk orders have existed for millennia with true vows of silence. Clearly they do organise matters, and can communicate to about others in the order. Equally, as they are silent, they don't do this by using, or referring to, personal names or identifiers. Indeed, they do it without being able to reference far more matters by labels and words.

Conclusion - its not difficult. But you'd have to research them to find details how. In effect this is an a proof that its done, workable, and usable, in our real world, rather than exactly how it's done in different communities over time.


As a reader I can never keep names straight, and I fall back on the character's intention and motivation and history. Maybe instead of where they work, Gardener, their new name would be about what they are trying to accomplish in their work and as a monk.

Why are they the gardner, because it was easy? Not good enough to be a monk. Because it got them outside? nope. Because they don't like people? Wrong order of monks. Because they like flowers or beauty? Maybe, but too generic. Because they believe others feel peace when nature is well ordered in a beautiful garden? That might work. The monks true calling is giving peace of mind, through gardening. Call him Greenpeace (overused), or Makepeace, Gardenpeace or some variation on the latin that works in english. Google translates "garden peace" as "hortus pace." "Garden serenity" as "hortus serenitatem".

It would come later in the apprenticeship, at some critical rite of passage. Their apprentice name could be the worst thing they did, or what the negative impact of their former life was, maybe with a place name too. What is the negative impact of thieving, murder, soldiering, or medical school? Thus the name change is the transition between the two types of impact.


They get a new ID periodically.

Some sort of color code or number which is assigned randomly to each monk every day or week. The ID could be permanently attached to the robes and they just pick up their robes randomly each week from the laundry. Tasks would be assigned to the ID instead of individuals.

The only problem are unique tasks or professions. If you have only one gardener monk or one sculpturer monk you can’t assign their tasks to a random ID. You have to assign to the individual with the specific knowledge which would allow that individual to earn fame as Gardener or Sculpturer.



There are two kinds of notoriety:

  • Fleeting: who will remember Justin Bieber 10 years hence?
  • "Eternal": Cleopatra, Leonardo da Vinci, ...

Any kind of temporary designation allows the fleeting kind of notoriety: "Brother Cage1 created a most wonderful sculpture of X".

Recycled Names.

An absence of designation is a hindrance for management (planning); thus I will assume temporary designations are necessary, and therefore there may be fleeting notoriety... it's unavoidable, really, as fleeting notoriety is synonym with recognition of competence which is necessary for effective management.

I propose that the order simply has a pool of names. Every time a new monk is ordained, they forego their name and pick up a random name from the pool. Whether this name is attached to them for their lifetime, or if a monk changes name on the day they celebrate their ordainment every year (for example) is up to you. No record should ever be kept of which monk picked up which name.

I would advise against changing every day, or changing all monks at once, as it would make it very difficult to plan ahead or to remember who is who.

The names can be as personal or impersonal as you wish it; the most important aspect is that they are recycled. There is no single "Brother Willow"; indeed, if you change name every year, there were hundreds of individuals referred to as "Brother Willow" in the past centuries. And the sculptor of X may have been "Brother Willow", but is also the sculptor of Y, 2 years later, known as "Brother Oak".

1 In Red Sister (& co) from Mark Lawrence, each sister takes on a new "name" when graduating from Novice to Sister. Sister Cage is the main character and narrator. Other names are: Abbess Glass, Sister Apple, ...

  • $\begingroup$ It's actually been ten years since Bieber's debut single, "One Time", was released. It's pretty likely that his pop culture relevance will last at least another ten. A better example would be to ask who remembers Kris Allen (American Idol winner from 10 years ago). $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy: It's not the debut that matters, it's the peak. I do indeed do not remember Kris Allen, but then I never followed American Idol, not being American. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 12:32

Rather than connecting an individual to a timeindifferent identifier, i.e. a name or a title, you can connect them with their current state. This has the benefit that you dont focus on the individual, and rather focus on his tasks. It allows the members of the order to be truly interchangable. Examples are:

  • The gardening monk
  • The sitting monk
  • The ill monk
  • The leading monk (who will only be the 'Leader' as long as he's leading, if someone eles takes the lead he will automatically take the lead)
  • The monk monk cleaning the dining room (if there are multiple monks cleaning)

Note, the degree of specification of the state is dependent on the number of monks in a similar state. Also note, how this is differerent from calling someone the Gardener or Smith, as with such identifiers, you provide a constant mean of identifying someone, so you might as well stick to names.

The only challenge with this is, that you can not use the states to convey a charachter to the reader. You can circumvent this by either referring to a specific monk by their appearance (the monk with the bend back), of connecting a event with them (only for the reader) i.e.

The monk who had joined the order on the first day of summer in the 567 year is the monk pealing the potatoes

Then subsequnently you refer to the him as the monk peeling the potatoes in interactions between the monks.

Finally, if it seems to complicated to differentiate between several monks, differentiating between them probably is not relevant.

  • $\begingroup$ *peeling, although your version is more amusing $\endgroup$
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Lucas! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 15:10

Based on other ways I've seen this work in novels:

1) They can choose token identifiers. If you wish to preserve their lack of identity, have them choose a new identifier every day. Maybe something like animal pins they can wear to make their new identity clear. This is derived from the Unsullied in the Song of Ice and Fire universe.

2) Identify them by job title. This will maintain a lack of identifiability and even imply some fungibility as any janitor can answer a call for "Janitor". This is lifted from Chuck Pahlankiuk's "Survivor", wherein the first male child in a family is always named "Adam", all subsequent male children are named "Tender" (as in they tend to things), and all female children are named "Biddy" (as in they do others' bidding).

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Steve! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 15:10

They could have relative identifiers from meal place seatings. "My left hand man", "my third-right-hand man" etc.


Depersonalize the order. As part of their creed, they abandon all ego and go on to live without an identity.

There is a metal band that does this. They are called Ghost and, asides their vocalist, every member of the band is called "a nameless ghoul". To distinguish a nameless ghoul from another nameless ghoul, they assign an element to each one. Their interviews are quite funny.

Good afternoon Nameless Ghoul, how are you today?

I am very well Kevin thank you for asking.

Let me just thank you for taking the time out to speak to me.

No worries, thank you for being interested in us and what we are about.

There are five Nameless Ghouls in Ghost, all of you being instrumentalists. You all take your names from the elements and so may I ask which element are you?

Yes you may Kevin and I am Fire.

Since you probably want to have too many cultists, you can probably assign each one the name of a monster, and make the assignment temporary. Someone may be brother imp until his team has finished their mission and disbanded, and then take the name of brother kobold on the next round.

Also take a page from the Game of Thrones's unsullied army, who take names such as "gray worm", "white rat" etc.


They could communicate like Members of Parliament. Instead of "I address my question to the Honourable Member from Bollocks-Biggleswaithe" they could say "I address my question to the Humble Brother from Bollocks-Biggleswaithe".


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