In the same vein as Harry Potter's "you-know-who", "he-should-not-be-named", and such, sometimes certain words become taboo, even when in private conversation.

In a tribe, what could cause celestial object name become a taboo?

I'm planning to have a tribe with many restrictions on referring to celestial objects. They know the existence of sun, moon, and stars, and have the words for them, but refuse to use it even in writing and conversation. They simply refer to them with pronouns, such as "it" or "them".

"Do you want to watch it set?" "No, we better watch it rise tomorrow."

"They are so misaligned this night. Something bad is bound to happen soon."

I imagine the tribe has nomadic life in a desert. They encounter the sun, moon, and stars everyday, but never to refer to them directly.

Note: This is set in a fantasy world, and there's quite substantial magic around. Mentioned just in case it is relevant to your answer.


closed as too broad by CaM, Ash, Frostfyre, Azuaron, anon Oct 25 '17 at 17:10

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ There are many different forms of taboo words on earth. How a culture determines what words are taboo is different for every culture. Without knowing a lot more about your tribe it's going to be impossible to know how a tribe determines which words become taboo. This question is pretty broad. If you reworded it a bit to be about what could cause a tribe to have the names of celestial objects as taboo words you would narrow the scope and greatly increase the clarity of the question. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Oct 19 '17 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ You mean the name of every celestial object in the sky is taboo. Pardon me if this seems excessive. Perhaps a bit of the sky falls if you mention its name? $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 19 '17 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android seems fun. I got an inspiration for another answer $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 19 '17 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ While there's nothing wrong with answering your own questions. In fact, this can be good. It's an excellent way of sharing useful worldbuilding information. You do seem to be going further in this direction than is usual. Just saying. Make sure your additional answer is good. I wouldn't want to inspire a not-so-good one. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 19 '17 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the problem solve itself after a generation? If noone mentions the names of "them", no child will learn the names and after a generation, the non-taboo words will be the norm and the taboo-words completely forgotten. $\endgroup$ – Florian Schaetz Oct 19 '17 at 9:10


Some words are considered sacred. This is true especially for names that refer to deities. For example, the Hebrew name of God is usually referred by Adonai.

In your example, the celestial objects may be worshipped, and referred sun as "He", moon as "She", and stars as "They".


Some will avoid certain word because of fear of what the word refers to. For example, Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter series is repeatedly referred to as "You-Know-Who", "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named", or simply by his title "the Dark Lord". Speaking the word is equal of summoning the figure, which should not be done.


The name of the celestial object has similar pronunciation of a spell. Saying "So'" invokes a fireball to the direction of your finger currently point to. Saying "Lune" emits a freezing blizzard within 18 feet.

That's why to avoid accidental spell casting, celestial object names are forbidden from being said.

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    $\begingroup$ On the ‘fear’ point: my answer would have been something bad happening at the same time as a significant celestial event (an eclipse, alignment, star being visible through a hole in a rock) might cause such a superstitious attachment. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 19 '17 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs Me too. Seems to be the only thing that makes sense. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 19 '17 at 7:59

The leader says so

For some reason the leader of your tribe fears the stars. Maybe his mother told him that the stars will come down and kill everyone he loves if he doesn't eat his vegetables, or he read an old story about a mystical dragon hiding in the firmament that will come down to hunt you if you defile its name, but there was no name mentioned.

Whatever the exact reason for this superstitious fear is: he command everyone to never ever refer to the celestial objects again. Everyone who is caught giving the things-hanging-above a name will be killed immediately.

When his son or daughter is born he tells them his stories - how an evil dragon once killed a tribe nearby because the people didn't listen to his words. Or how the angel of destruction will come down if you anger the gods above by naming the things-hanging-above. The new leader will take this as a truth and keep up the tradition of killing everyone who dares to name the things-hanging-above.

After a handful of generations most of the normal people will believe these legends, too. And because of the fear of being killed without any form of trial thry will teach their children to never name the things-hanging-above. And then you have your taboo.

You just need one leader with too much power and tell him a few horror stories when he's a child.

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    $\begingroup$ That's an awful thing to do to a child, even if he's going to grow up to be a too-powerful leader. You don't seem to have considered the tribe might consider their leader was a cowardy custard and were likely to depose him. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 19 '17 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android That's a possibility, but it's also possible that he is a normal leader at first and later develops a kind of power-high and goes a bit insane. It's not like there have never been any insane leaders. And if he is a good leader in all other regards, maybe they let him be. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 19 '17 at 8:30

Naming them draws their (malevolent) attention.

In some European lore, mischievous supernatural beings are referred to by circumlocutions to avoid accidentally insulting them and drawing bad luck.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aos_S%C3%AD

  • $\begingroup$ "Naming calls": yes, yes. $\endgroup$ – Neal Oct 19 '17 at 16:58

If your fantasy world has a high-tech history (perhaps a beyond-nuclear war which broke the laws of physics; allowing magic to re-enter the world)...

Then the stars above might actually have a history which warrant fear and discretion when speaking their names. Some of the stars might actually be pre-war satellites, assassination satellites which can literally call down hell-fire (lasers) upon man-size targets on the ground.

If the last tech users had radio-based voice control over those satellites, then during their last battle against your tribe, they may have called out the name of each satellite, invoking its attack protocol. When the stars responded by killing your tribesmen's grandfathers, that would leave the survivors with a tremendous reverence for the spoken name of each star.

Lacking the necessary radio equipment, the tribesmen are in no real danger of invoking a satellite attack, but they don't know that. So a tradition of fear propogates itself down across the generations.

  • $\begingroup$ Quite a Mortal Engines vibe going on there... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 19 '17 at 8:09

They are exiles

Imagine that stars, sun and moon are not celestial objects, they are exiled powerful beings. Sun was their leader who ruled YourWorldNamium with his ferocious hand, burning everyone and everything that dared to oppose him. Lune was his beloved one, but she was cold as ice and cruel to everything that lives. And there were many of those who followed them silently in their wake. But their reign didn't last long since YourPowerfulGoodGods engaged in a war with them and won it. The leaders and their countless followers were exiled far away to the cosmic emptiness, allowed only to see the world they once ruled. Later, YourGoodGods left YourWorldNamium, seeking retirement in some higher plane of existence.

That left the world with Sun, Lune and the stars hanging in the sky. Exiles can only see their former land. But even now people feel the chilling wind in the freezing desert during the Lune's night; they also feel an unbearable heat that comes from enraged Sun during the day. Your tribe still carries the memories of old days and they know who are those beings above them and why these beings shouldn't be referred by their names. These are exiles.


They are naked goddesses.

Diana bathing and Actaeon https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2013/04/warning-virgins-bathing-ahead-andy-adams-greek-mythology-ovid-actaeon-artemis-diana

Why would a good looking bunch of goddesses care if some dude saw them naked? But they do. In the myth of Diana and Actaeon, Actaeon stumbles into the bathers and of course checks them out. And is turned into a stag and torn apart by his own dogs. The takeaway principle I think is stated best by Seinfeld.

“Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don't stare at it. It's too risky. Ya get a sense of it and then you look away.”

Naked goddesses in the sky actually combine both of these risky actions. Keep your eyes on your driving. Maybe a raised eyebrow to your buddy who caught a glimpse. Say nothing. Don't look again.


One word:


Is the tendency to attribute meaning to perceived connections or patterns between seemingly unrelated things.

Let's say that a catastrophe occurs while someone in a small comunity says the name, like a shaman or a bishop, and this catastrophe kills alot of innocents and destroys a lot of buildings and homes.

Years after people still struggle to recover from the catastrophe and the government or those in charge have not yet recovered from the coup, people in the streets between whispers continues to say that the celestial body is unlucky, but it is only that, gossip and chatter.

Then it happens again, another famous and unrelated figure again publicly pronounces the name and another great disaster or devastation occurs, (it can be the same or different).

People blame the celestial body and finally finally, when someone returns to pronounce the name, small disasters follow, small tremors, droughts, floods.

All begin to blame the celestial body because they see no other explanation.

Others remember what happened in 2016 and the Oscar-Dicaprio Oscar

(I still blame him for everything that happened and I have no evidence of it)


Religious skizims or endless debate.

Everyone sees the stars. No one knows what they are for sure, but that doesn't stop them from having an opinion. Loudly. In the past various people have said the things in the sky are this or that, that they want this or that. This lead to many really useless meetings, a lot of bad feelings and some fighting. The tribe now has turned their backs on everything related to the sky to preserve peace.

"If you are going to fight about it NOBOBY gets the sky."


The people who know the stars use them for magic (like astrology or seasons if you don't like fireballs) and reserve their names to themselves. If you are caught practicing magic without a license you can expect seven years of flies in your soup.


The celestial objects are the source of magical power. Their true names are words of power: fine.

But that makes powerful magic very easy, which would lead to catastrophe. The true names would be state secrets, guarded by much more than taboo: more like guilds of assassins defending the stability of reality.

The celestial objects are malevolent gods, insane, spiteful, watchful-- or at least prideful bordering on psychotic. Any conversations about them, offend them. Words used to refer to them regularly attract their notice, which is always bad.

So, you have to instead talk all around the subject. The more you talk about it, the more circuitous you have to be.

This is pretty similar to Frankin's and user2851843's, but not identical.

  • $\begingroup$ "thou shalt not use the name of god(s) in vain" $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 19 '17 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ Don't name them, don't look at them, don't talk about them, don't kind of talk about them, don't give them nicknames, ... a Chekov's gun situation, for sure: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun $\endgroup$ – Neal Oct 19 '17 at 17:29

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