My world has a society of mages that can only communicate through empathy. They communicate by reading and projecting the "internal voice", effectively deriving their information from telepathic emotional signatures. Each of these mages is raised to do this since their birth. Traditional linguistic skills hamper their magic, so they actively avoid learning them.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this of course. One advantage is that they can effectively understand any other human. All humans feel emotional traces and see related images to our message while we speak, though they can't understand words. For example; they will know if you're lying, but won't know the words you are saying.

Disadvantages: They're completely illiterate and mute. They do possess a special script, but the characters of this script function much more like dynamic calligraphy. The symbols are created such to convey traces of emotion, and have no consistency like one would find in any language on earth. These mages often create entirely new script characters for emotional patterns you or I might attribute to simple nouns, but other mages of this order intuitively understand what these new characters represent.

Our mage is one such character. I want to give him a verbal name but I'm having trouble thinking of a reason mages of this order would assign verbal names. Surely each mage would become identifiable to the others as his actions defined him and his appearance began to finalize, thus giving him a unique emotional signature.

How could a verbal name come to be assigned to a mage of this type?

  • $\begingroup$ Relevant $\endgroup$ – SF. Nov 10 '17 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ In response to your title question, wouldn't this "unique emotional signature" qualify as a name of sorts? (As in, a unique identifier for a person, which could in principle be used to address that person.) $\endgroup$ – user Nov 10 '17 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ One can easily argue in favor of a verbal name (for interaction with non-mages, birth name, administration, documents ...), one can come up with many concepts for what that name might be (apparently breath, I might consider going with naming them after the house/cell/whatever they occupy), but the thing I do not get: What is your argument against having one? Your question is already long, but I fear you have to explain how they come to be and at the end it all might be opinion based and pure idea generation = people will vote to close this $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 10 '17 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ Do you want to give him a verbal name because you want to be able to refer to him in writing from an outsider POV? Then this outsider could have named him in the past, and you'd have a name. If that's not applicable then maybe you could use a drawing as a name, a symbol character or a dingbat and later replace it in publication with a unique art. $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle Nov 10 '17 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ Your mages cannot be completely illiterate and possess a script at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Olga Nov 10 '17 at 13:29

There are two valid approaches that would do the trick:

  1. Use a name that is descriptive, that shows mental signature. For example He Who Is Always Happy And Reckless, explain how that's the core of his "mental signature", and then shorten it to just Happy in your narration, using full one sparingly, possibly changing it slightly in response to character development.

  2. Use a name outsiders use. He knows how they call him. Because sometimes they do, right? He can read all else from their minds but he needs a trigger to start reading.

I suggest using both approaches, each where it makes more sense.

  • $\begingroup$ #2 is not a bad idea. Mages within the order would never refer to each other via these names (they would never even learn them), and they would only ever know their own for when non-order folk attempt to grab their attention. $\endgroup$ – DeepDeadpool Nov 10 '17 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ Option 2 is that is used in stories about animals, who don't use names but are given a name by narrators to ease communication with readers. $\endgroup$ – Pere Jun 23 '19 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DeepDeadpool considering option #1, you could drop the ‘He Who Is’ and just refer to a mage by the emotion that most often defines their mental signature without implying that your mages actually ‘think’ the word when they see him, which they wouldn’t do, because they don’t have a spoken language. Instead, just use the emotion as a reference for your reader, while in ‘reality’, your mages simply associate this emotion with that character. So, instead of thinking the word, they would think of the feeling every time they saw that character, if that makes any sense... $\endgroup$ – MooNieu Nov 11 '19 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ ... In addition, you could use more description words to describe the emotion that they associate the character with to avoid the fact that twenty mages in one given area might be associated with the emotion ‘Happy’. Also, sorry, didn’t see how old this post was until just now :) $\endgroup$ – MooNieu Nov 11 '19 at 22:33

You might want to introduce a reason why telepathy does not work sometimes. Maybe have emotional distress decrease the range or intensity of the telepathic flow, so that in dangerous situations, your mages still have to shout stuff. Therefore, there might be some kind of primitive verbal language system in place - not something we'd see as a modern language with a complex grammar and strict vocabulary, but rather certain shouts for "watch out, fire!", "watch out, bear!" and so on.

Every child would learn a certain shout that others use to get its attention, which is one of the main reasons we have names. It wouldn't be a name like "Bob Bobsman Jr." but rather "Ako", "Pa", and other short combinations of hard consonants and certain vocals*. Talking about others and other social interaction would still mostly happen on the telepathic channel.

If you want to take the idea of this primitive language further, they might have found a way to write things with words instead of emotion. This might be useful for things like encryption of secret messages, writing down things while in emotional distress, or preserving information over a long time. Maybe the emotional language is highly dependant on current events or culture, so that after some hundred years, texts written in emotion script couldn't only not be deciphered anymore because of the change in vocabulary and grammar (as with common languages), but because the way their content is interpreted changes and there is no way of reconstructing the state of the authors mind to understand what he meant. In this case, maybe look into Abugidas, a number of systems of denoting sounds as signs that came up pretty early in human history, and still exist today.

*You might want to think about what vocal distinctions they make. If their verbal channel is not as developed, O and U might be the same to them, as well as E, I and Y. The same goes for consonants.


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