The name is the thing, and the true name is the true thing — so if the name changes...
Some names have obvious meanings but often, this is done when it is not the original name for the person, place, or object, but rather, a new one given by someone or assumed.
Renaming oneself can often signify casting aside an old identity, especially if one wishes to part with a particular aspect of oneself. Other times, they may take on the new name in order to reflect a change in their personality or role in life. Renaming someone or something else often is used to claim ownership or to dictate that person or thing's purpose. In the case of this trope, such a renaming is intentional and generally symbolic, and the characters often state their reasons for the renaming.
Changing your name back to the original is also a Meaningful Rename. You learned that you should Be Yourself, or accepted your past and/or heritage, or acknowledged that your grievances were more petty than you thought, or changed your mind about the merits of whatever the rename stood for. Or perhaps you have found your Secret Legacy and re-adopted your original name as a symbol of that.
May overlap with Artifact Alias. Compare That Person Is Dead, when a character disavows their old name without necessarily accepting a new one. If a name is forcefully taken from its bearer by magic, you're looking at Take Away Their Name. Also compare The Magnificent, which is tacked on to the existing name — whether given or self-ascribed. Egopolis, where a despot renames an entire city after themself, is a subtrope. Please Select New City Name usually falls under this. See also The Maiden Name Debate which involves changing one's name after marriage. A Stage Name or Pen Name may also qualify. See Do Not Call Me "Paul" for when a character disregards their given name for personal reasons. Outgrowing the Childish Name is for when a character no longer uses their childhood diminutive name as a sign of maturity. It can also lead to I Have Many Names if the old names are still valid. Contrast Significant Name Shift for when a character's name doesn't actually change, but how another character addresses them does.
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- In The Famous Flower of Serving Men, part of Sweet Polly Oliver — always mentioned as significant in all the variants:
Wherefore in hast I chang'd my name
From Fair Elise to Sweet William.
- In the Child Ballad The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward, the young lord calls himself Poore Disaware after he starts to tend sheep.
- In the final installment of The Adventures of Prudence Prim, protagonist Prudence marries a fellow named Dicky Dare and changes her last name from "Prim" to "Dare". This reflects how she's become more courageous, confident, and adventurous over the course of the series. As the caption puts it:
He said, "Come, Darling, let's elope!" and drew her close to him.
She said "No, no! My name is Prudence, and my other name is Prim!"
"Come, Sweet— a special license—" and ere she was aware—
Her Christian name was Prudence— but her other name was Dare!
- This can happen when an extremely loose adaptation of a work tries to avert In Name Only by not even keeping the name. Disney's adaptation of The Snow Queen was Frozen, which is appropriate since the final draft of the story was not only so different from the original story as to be nearly unrecognizable, but also no longer even had a character called The Snow Queen (her name was now Elsa, and plans to have her adopt the title of Snow Queen in a straight in-universe example of Meaningful Rename ended up getting scrapped before the script reached its final version).
- In Joseph: King of Dreams, Joseph is renamed "Zaphenapt-Paneah" (The God speaks and He lives) after he correctly interprets both of Pharaoh's dreams. This shows that the people of Egypt believe that Joseph does, indeed, hear the meanings of dreams from God. After receiving the new name, the only people who ever call him by his previous name are Aesaneth and his brothers, after he reconciles with them.
- In Tangled, when Flynn Rider thinks they will both drown, he confides in Rapunzel that his real name is Eugene Fitzhurbert. After they escape, he explains how he had read stories of a Lovable Rogue named Flynn Rider as an orphan in an orphanage and wanted to be like him. Rapunzel says she likes Eugene better and takes to calling him that. In his final narration, he admits he went back to that name.
- In Wizards, Avatar renames Blackwolf's assassin Necron 99 "Peace" in the hopes that he will help bring it. And Peace does, though he is slain before he can experience it for himself.
- A man goes to have his name changed. He explains that his name is Andrew Horserapist and he's sick of being ridiculed over it. When asked what he wants his name changed to, he says "Steven Horserapist".
- In Nazi Germany they told a joke with various embarrassing surnames where a man goes to the registry office to have his name changed from Adolf Schleimscheisser (slime-shitter) to Friedrich Schleimscheisser.
- A Russian joke: Stalingrad has been just renamed as Volgograd during the Destalinization. During the name change party, a telegram arrives. It reads: NAME CHANGE APPROVED. JOSEF VOLGA.
- MonsterVerse: The Apex Cybernetics corporation who debuted in the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong, and also appear in the TV series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters as a Canon Character All Along in the show's 2015 setting. In the latter appearance, they're initially called Applied Experimental Technologies, and the reveal that the company is actually Apex comes when they rebrand themselves after they land a contract with the monster-tracking heroic organization Monarch which will enable their Corporate Conspiracy. Why "Apex Cybernetics"? Because they're a cybernetics-oriented Research, Inc. who pride themselves on developing absolutely cutting-edge futuristic technology (and boy, do they have a lot of pride to spare), and they're planning to use their cybernetics to re-establish humanity as the apex species on Earth over the Kaiju in an amoral manner while they take over the world with a corporate hegemony.
- Adam Ant: After his failed suicide attempt he rejected his old name, Stuart Leslie Goddard, and became Adam Ant, an identity that symbolises being both new and eternal.
"I really knew I wanted to be Adam because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there's a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive."
- Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka is an album that was merely produced by Brian Jones, but it doesn't feature him on vocals or instruments at all. Instead, we hear the wonderful performances by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a Moroccan folk group. However, the 1995 reissue changed the title from "Joujouka" into "Jajouka", to avoid confusion with another Morrocan folk band who have almost the same name.
- Frank Zappa's first band was originally named The Mothers, short for motherfucker. But the record company feared that nobody would buy a record from a band with that name, so they were forced to call themselves The Mothers Of Invention. As Zappa himself pointed out: in the end, most people didn't buy the albums anyway, because of the kind of bizarre music they played.
- Electronic musician Walter Carlos changed her name into Wendy Carlos after her gender transition.
- The Jackson 5 changed their name into The Jacksons after their former label claimed copyright on their name.
- Kim Namjoon, the leader of the K-POP band BTS, has changed his stage name from Rap Monster to RM due to a change in his opinions and views surrounding rap and how he presents himself through it, expanding his work into other genres while still including rap. In 2018 he marked this change with the release of his second mixtape (which he named a "playlist" rather than a mixtape) mono., meaning "monster no more".
- Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam after converting. "Cat Stevens" itself was a stage name for Steven Demetre Georgiou, whose girlfriend told him he had eyes like a cat.
- John Mellencamp was forced by his record label into the more 'tough' name of Johnny Cougar when he started, gradually shifting it back via John Cougar Mellencamp.
- Five years before coming out as trans, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace revealed in "The Ocean" that her mother indeed would have named her Laura.
- In Interstitial: Actual Play, Ennora's Nobody was named Roxanne. When the former is restored all the others refer to them as such and acknowledge that even though they have many aspects of Roxanne, they are a separate entity.
- The Magnus Archives has Narrator Jonathan Sims stop introducing himself as "Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute" and begin introducing himself as "Jonathan Sims, The Archivist, reflecting his increasingly inhuman nature at the start of S4.
- In the Fraggle Rock episode "Beginnings," Uncle Matt renames himself after discovering Outer Space (the human world) and deciding to explore it.
Uncle Matt: Think of me as Traveling Matt.
- Spoofed in Survival of the Fittest v4 with Meredith Hemmings, who, after identifying herself as a "goth" (she isn't; she's just a poser who is acting out what she thinks goths act like) renames herself "Pandora Black" and repeatedly insists that it's her soul name whenever anyone questions it. Jake Crimson also renamed himself from "Gomez", apparently after his parents' divorce (that, and Rule of Cool). Remy Kim is another character who has gone through this, originally having the last name "Trembley" before his parents separated and having it changed to his mother's maiden name sometime after. This serves to symbolize just how different he is from his sister, Josée Trembley.
- The canonical BattleTech example has to be Frederick Steiner. Thought dead for over twenty years, he eventually becomes ComStar's Precentor Martial under the name Anastasius Focht — a combination of Greek and German that pointedly can be read as "the resurrected man (who) fought".
- If an adult civilian or outsider manages to be adopted into the Clan warrior caste they drop their old surname and replace it with the name of the Clan. For example; Minoru Kurita became known as Minoru Nova Cat when he joined Clan Nova Cat.
- The ultimate example in BattleTech is a Clan Warrior earning their Bloodname, marking their status as one of the Clan's elite warriors.
- In Earthdawn, magic is tied to names to the point of names defining a person, place, or thing, so changing a name erases all magical properties and allows new ones to take their place in time. This is heavily emphasized in-setting by the word "Name-Giver" being used instead of "people" to refer to sentient beings capable of bestowing names and thus defining other beings, places, or things.
- Warhammer: Necrarch vampires tend to take Nehekaran names when they are first turned, symbolizing their leaving their mortal life behind in favor of a new existence as Nagash's heirs.
- Warhammer 40,000: Many Legions had different names before they found their primarch: Mortarian immediately renamed the Dusk Raiders as the Death Guard; Angron, the War Hounds to the World Eaters; Lion El'Jonson, the First Legion to the Dark Angels. (And we are not definitively told that any of them did not change their names at their primarch's behest.) In Dan Abnett's Horus Rising, Horus's Luna Wolves are renamed the Sons of Horus as a mark of his ascension to Warmaster, and in Galaxy In Flames, the betrayed Sons of Horus take back the name Luna Wolves for the brief remainder of their lives. And at the end of the Horus Heresy, Abaddon renamed the Sons of Horus the Black Legion.
- The Blood Angels' Mephiston, Lord of Death, was originally Brother Calistarius until he became the only Blood Angel to overcome the Red Thirst.
- Mage: The Awakening has players give their characters 'Shadow Names', often with significance of their own, which they go by to avoid people knowing their real names. Changing Shadow Name can signify a new rank, a change in personal philosophy, leaving their magical Order for another one, or any combination of the above. One extreme example from the core book hit the Despair Event Horizon, had a Face–Heel Turn, named himself after Angrboda the Norse mother of monsters, and allied himself with eldritch abominations from outside of existence.
- A few races in Dungeons & Dragons do this regularly, according to a few sourcebooks.
- Elves, for example, are given a name by their parents when they are born but choose more mature ones upon reaching legal age. (Although an adult elf's parents or other older elves that he was close to as a child might still call him by his old name as a sign of affection.)
- Gnomes love names, and while they never actually change them, they do love adding titles to their existing names, often doing so to commemorate some great accomplishment.
- In Traveller, the Darrians and several other races get a new name at their coming of age. In the Darrians case that is simply added onto the other names and the original isn't lost.
- In Magic: The Gathering, the Mardu clan have a Rite of Passage where they're required to land the killing blow on a dragon during battle, at which point they choose a war name for themselves. Usually this is a Badass Boast based on how they got it (like Headsmasher or Wingbreaker); their current khan took the opportunity to rename herself Alesha, replacing her old male name.
- In The Rainmaker, Con Man Bill Starbuck admits he was originally named Smith, but changed it because he needed something more meaningful. He also tries to change Lizzie's name to Melisande, but she refuses to take it. This also serves as a clue to his true nature, depending upon the production- A poster for someone named Tornado Smith is put up in the police station, and clever audience members will put two and two together and realize that Smith and Starbuck are one and the same.
- Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano's cousin was named Madeleine Robin, but as a member of les Précieuses literary movement, she took a new name in order to reflect the change in their role in life. Roxane is an Iranian Name (Roshanak) that means "Little Star" and was the name of princess Roxane, who married Alexander the Great. "Roxane was said by contemporaries to be the most beautiful lady in all Asia”. Truth in Television, because the Real Life Madeleine Robin chose this name. At Act I Scene V, contrast the wise Le Bret with the dreamer Cyrano:
Le Bret: Your cousin, Madeleine Robin?
- Starship gives us Tootsie Noodles. You see, where he comes from, Farm-Planet, your first name is what you do, and your second name is what you like. So he's called Tootsie, on the account of his occasional toot, and Noodles, cos he likes 'em. He changes it to Tootsie Megagirl after he falls in love with her.
- Towards the end of Act One of Wicked, Galinda declares that she will now call herself "Glinda" to honor Doctor Dillamond, the goat professor at Shiz University who was recently spirited away by the racist Madame Morrible for being able to speak. Unlike the book example, the change is very much Played for Laughs: Galinda only makes the swap because she feels left out of Elphaba and Fiyero's genuine discussion of Animal rights, and, being an Attention Whore, wants the spotlight to be on herself again. We see proof of this when she corrects someone who calls her Galinda: "It's pronounced Glin-da. The 'Ga' is silent."
- The trope is played more seriously in Act II when Glinda receives her official designation as "Glinda the Good" as part of Madame Morrible's smear campaign against Elphaba. The young witch realizes that she hasn't done anything to truly earn the designation, and among her last lines of the musical are a promise to the people of Oz to genuinely try to be good, instead of simply possessing the title.
- Similarly, there's Madame Morrible declaring Elphaba a "wicked witch," which is the title she assumes throughout the rest of her life.
- Nessarose, Elphaba's younger sister, undergoes a similarly depressing change of name in Act II. She becomes the new governor of Munchkinland after her and Elphaba's father dies of shame because of his older daughter's activist work. Unfortunately, the Munchkin she hopelessly loves, Boq, won't love her back, as he's long harbored feelings for Glinda. In revenge, Nessa strips the Munchkins of their rights in a desperate effort to keep him close. Boq claims that she's just as bad as Elphaba, and in a song, Nessa heartbreakingly agrees, declaring herself the "Wicked Witch of the East" (which is her title from the movie.
- At the end of Disney's Believe, Dr. Greenaway renames his prize flower, the Filioa Fabulae, after his beloved daughter Sophia.
- BIONICLE has "Naming Day", in which accomplished Matoran are rewarded by being able to change their names (although it's usually just a minor change to the spelling). In a subversion, this was actually done to make the characters' names less meaningful, as Lego was threatened by legal action from Maori activists over the use of names from their language.
- Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has Celestia "Celeste" Ludenberg. Since everyone is most likely Asian (except Sonia Nevermind from the second game and Angie Yonaga from the third), it's strange for her to have that name. And it is. Her real name is Taeko Yasuhiro. It is revealed that Celeste chose this name for herself because she wanted to appear as having a European heritage, along with her dream aesthetic of living in a castle with handsome servants dressed as vampires. This rename proved useful during the third class trial, when Hifumi got hit on the head with a hammer, causing him to remember his school memories that were taken from him, including Celeste telling him her real name. He woke up one last time when Aoi held up his head and cried on him, and when asked who killed him, he said "Yasuhiro." At first it sounded like an attempt to pin the crime on Yasuhiro Hagakure once more, but during the trial, it is noted that (in the English game translation) Hifumi always refers to people by their surnames and that Celeste never told them her real name, so he could be referring to her. At the end of the trial when Celeste is found guilty, she admits her real name, proving that.
- Hate Plus takes the form of Apocalyptic Logs from the now-destroyed spaceship Mugunghwa, with the player character and their AI sidekick trying to find out what happened before "Year Zero" to wipe all of the information from before then. One of the plotlines involves Oh Eun-a, first empress of the new dynasty that started in Year Zero, and her "little sister", Mi-seun. In one message, Mi-seun gets sent a letter by former councillor Oh Jeong-woo, insisting that she tell Eun-a to see reason, addressing Mi-seun as "Pyeon Mi-seun". She writes back a curt letter informing him he got her name wrong, signing it as Oh Mi-seun, also the surname used in the logs' interface. Unfortunately for her, "big sister" Eun-a was working very hard to reinstate Confucian ideals, insisting that it was for the good of the spaceship and society that women get married to men and have children, spending more and more time with the leader of the ship's council of officers to get him to marry her and make her his empress. After seven years of this, Mi-seun, believing there to be no place for her and Eun-a in the latter's vision of the future, commits suicide, leaving a note for Eun-a. It's pointedly signed Pyeon Mi-seun.
- In Her Jentle Hi-ness, a lot of the characters changed their name in some way due to the Queen banning letter G and executing any who dare speak it. This also affects the protagonist, who was formerly called Georgina, changing it into Eorina.
- In Higurashi: When They Cry, after moving back to her hometown, Ryuuguu Reina changed her name to "Rena". She did this because she believed that renaming herself would do away with the memories of her parents' divorce, which she believed was her fault.
- Psycholonials: In chapter 9, Z. starts going by her given name, Zhen. This symbolizes her embracing her Chinese heritage (she started going by Z because people couldn't pronounce Zhen) and reconciling with her immigrant parents, as well as her casting away her clownsona and identity as the leader of the Jubilities.
- Red vs. Blue:
- Epsilon is based on the memories of the Alpha AI. Until he is activated and becomes a major member of the cast, he's solely referred to as Epsilon... but after, he almost immediately assumes the name Church, just like Alpha did. He knows something's off when, after he's rescued from the capture unit, everyone calls him "Epsilon" again. Turns out they've been calling Agent Washington "Church"... his armor color confuses Caboose.
- In Sarge's backstory, we learn Sarge had his name changed because he wanted to be a sergeant, and this was a step up from the phrase "dress for the job you want".
- Dreamscape: Vampire Lord's flashback in 'Confronting the Dark' reveals that he used to be a knight named Vampire Knight, but was given the title of 'Lord' after he saved his people from a Fog of Doom.7
- When Cinder introduces herself, Raven immediately pegs Cinder Fall's surname as something she chose herself because she's the Fall Maiden. Upon suggesting this is a sign that Cinder is egomaniacal, Watts concedes that Raven is spot on.
- When Little is killed and resurrected, they change their name to Somewhat, because they realized that they can have many purposes.
- Played with in a Homestar Runner short. Strong Bad tells Homestar and Strong Sad that he renamed himself to "The Lege" (as in legendary), but Homestar being Homestar, he doesn’t get the reference. Strong Bad eventually just gives up on his attempted rename.
- Lightning Sentai Blitzenger: Upon being recruited into the ranks of the Underworld Society, Doctor Waruko cast away her former human identity of Mimi Kuroda.
- At least two members of Achievement Hunter have gotten gamer name changes over the years. Michael Jones spent a good deal of his time on the team as "MLPMichael" before being able to get the more useful "MJones". In a more meaningful variation, Jeremy Dooley used to go by the nonsensical name "Jerem6401", but when he was promoted to be part of the main team, he changed his name to "JDoolz"
- In Jake and Amir, Thomas Middleditch plays the recurring character of "Anthony Dooblinay," Amir's bizarre rival. Amir derisively calls Anthony "Doobs," which infuriates him. This becomes a Running Gag wherein Anthony repeatedly comes up with increasingly long names full of offensive words and slang terms for genitals...but never thinks to remove "Dooblinay" from them. Amir, in turn, never thinks to address Doobs by anything other than Doobs, despite having plenty of harmful names to choose from.
- SBI Rust: Pebbles was originally named Rock, but his name was changed after Wilbur realized "how weak he was".
- StacheBros: In "Koopa and the Three Tasks", after Koopa (aka Handsome Shy Turtle) becomes uglier and loses his ability to tap dance from years of working for Bowser (aka Ugly Monster), he deems himself so much of a loser that he changes his name to "Eh".