Discovering Ancient Names

When I meet someone new, I want to discover their ancient name.

You’re reading this blog post right now, but if you heard your ancient name spoken, you’d join that conversation immediately, forgetting this blog post even existed.

When you hear people say your actual name “Dave!”, you get a small dopamine hit. It feels good. You feel seen, recognized, and if they say it the right way, also cued that you are about to encounter a close friend.

Your ancient name is far more powerful. You can’t ignore it. It’s the word(s) or phrase(s) that you identify with more than your own name.

The trickiest thing about ancient names is that most people don’t know their own ancient name. In fact, it may be easier for someone else to notice your ancient name than it is for you.

Ancient names are also constantly in flux. Once identified, they quickly grow in specificity. Here’s an example:

When I first got obsessed with hackathons, “hackathons” were my ancient name. If I heard the word “hackathon” I couldn’t hold myself back:

I was going to join that conversation. My ancient name had been called.

Back then, there were so few hackathons and even fewer people who wanted to talk about them seriously. As the hackathon movement began, I went from a scarcity of conversational partners to an abundance who were interested in talking about hackathons. Hackathons were no longer my ancient name. Scaling community and eradicating loneliness took its place.

Discovering people’s ancient names is difficult, but I’m convinced you can get better at it. Some people wear it on their sleeves, founders for instances. Others have it hidden deep down inside. Either way, you’ll know it when you see it. They overhear their ancient name, ears perk up, and they can’t resist — they must join that conversation.

Every conversation is an opportunity to discover someone’s ancient name.

Give it a try. Dig deep in your next conversation. Search for that thing that makes them come alive.

If you made it to the end of this post, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and reflect: what’s your ancient name right now?


The concept of ancient names is inspired by Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. In the series, knowing someone’s “true name” gives you power over them. Just like in the books, ancient names give you power. Power to understand. Power to influence. Power to help.

Subscribe if you want to read about how to identify people’s ancient names and how to leverage ancient names in my next post :D

 by the author.

Dave Fontenot

Written by

I study hybrid offline/online communities.

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