What’s in a Teixcalaanli Name? - Tor/Forge Blog




What’s in a Teixcalaanli Name?

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Arkady Martine’s brilliant (and now Hugo Award-winning) space opera A Memory Called Empire has a sequel coming next month and we NEED to share some of our many feelings. And our Teixcalaanli names.

That’s right. Like our protagonist Mahit, we love ourselves a bit of predatory space empire culture. That’s why we’ve all claimed names like 8 Gravity, 45 Neon, 23 Spandrel, and 13! Teapot.

Now you can join in the fun too. We’ve included our short and sweet name generator below, but if you’re ready to dig deeper for your perfect author-approved Teixcalaani name, we’ve got you covered. Continue below for Arkady’s guide to Teixcalaani names!

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By Arkady Martine


Each Teixcalaanli personal name has a number part and a noun part. Both parts have symbolic meanings.


Numbers in general:

  • The number part of the name is a whole integer (i.e. no negative numbers, no decimals or fractions, and irrational numbers like pi or e are only for jokes). The range of numbers is almost always between 1 and 100, with lower numbers being more common.
  • Numbers from 1-20 are the most common number-parts, and suggest tradition and normalcy. Think about names like ‘John’, ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Maria Jose’, or ‘Mohammed’ – names that lots of people have and aren’t unusual choices.
  • Numbers from 21-60 are slightly more unusual but not weird in any way – they’re just the sort of name that is a little more unique. Think ‘Nadia’, ‘Malik’, ‘Yuko’, ‘Gabriel’ or ‘Makenzie’.
  • Numbers from 61-99 are less common, but no one is really going to blink at them too Think ‘Fashionette’, ‘Clemency’, ‘Ezekiel’, or ‘Thor’.
  • Numbers over 100 are like naming your kid ‘Moon Unit’ or ‘Apple’. Except in Teixcalaan you could name your kid Moon Unit or Apple…

Numbers in specific:

  • ONE – achievement, aggression, singularity, primacy, solidity
  • TWO – balance, reflection, liquidity, succession, mirroring
  • THREE – aggression and balance, think of a pointy but stable triangle
  • FOUR – intellect, broad-based knowledge, evaluation, strategy
  • FIVE – speed/quickness, humanity, diplomacy, exemplar-of-type (think of five fingers on a hand)
  • SIX – imperial power, ambition, multi-tasking, associated with the six directions of the world (N/W/S/E plus up and down) – Teixcalaanli symbolism is full of sixes
  • SEVEN – life of the mind, softness, care, security, unbiased evaluation
  • EIGHT – twice four, intellect applied, solutions
  • NINE – three threes, prickly, difficult, brilliant
  • TEN – reliability, omnipresence, financial success
  • ELEVEN – subversion, cleverness, flexibility … and loyalty. Tactics.
  • TWELVE – two sixes, power/authority, ambition but not the dangerous kind, success in money/trade

Numbers in the Teixcalaanli writing system:

Since Teixcalaan writes in characters (sort of a hybrid of Mayan glyphs and hanzi), there are multiple ways to write each number, most of which are not the simple way which is used in mathematics. Name-numbers have specific fancier glyphs, and these can be passed down or re-used. (See Eight Loop, the Judiciary Minister, and Eight Antidote, the imperial heir, who use the same number-glyph to write their names).


Nouns in general:

  • The noun part of a Teixcalaanli name is always a plant, an inanimate object, or a concept (in order of likelihood). No animals and no self-propelled inanimate things – i.e. ‘boat’ is an acceptable noun, but ‘self-driving car’ is not. (Honestly, both ‘Boat’ and ‘Self-Driving Car’ are names that Teixcalaanlitzlim would laugh at.)
  • Teixcalaan loves flowers. A lot of plant names are flowers and trees, including some unusual ones. See ‘Three Seagrass’, ‘Twelve Azalea’, ‘One Cyclamen’, ‘Eleven Conifer’.
  • Object names tend to be related to the natural world (‘Five Agate’, ‘Ten Pearl’), astronomical objects or phenomena (‘Sixteen Moonrise’, ‘Twelve Solar-Flare’) or common objects, often ones which can be held and manipulated. Tools are highly represented. (‘Nineteen Adze’, ‘Eleven Lathe’). Occasionally object names refer to architecture – ‘Five Portico’ is only a little bit odd as a name. (Something like ‘Two Paving-Stone’ would be odd, but no odder than a kid named ‘Winston’.)
  • Concept names again tend to be astronomical, mathematical, or scientific. ‘Six Direction’, for example, or ‘Eight Antidote’.
  • Often the noun part of a Teixcalaanli name is where a use-name or nickname is derived from. Some examples: Three Seagrass à ‘Reed’; Twelve Azalea à ‘Petal’; Two Cartograph à ‘Map’; ‘Eight Antidote’ à ‘Cure’.

Some symbolism for nouns, of what could be a very long list:

  • ‘Ink’ vs. ‘Inkwell’ – a person named Two Ink is someone who makes quick-thinking, indelible decisions, but a person named Two Inkwell is an endless store of new ideas. Both of these people are from traditional or tradition-minded families.
  • ‘Graphite’ – as opposed to ‘Carbon’ or ‘Diamond’, a child named ‘Graphite’ has a parent who is hedging their bets: ‘Graphite’ is flexible, changeable, useful in all its forms, while ‘Carbon’ has suggestions of ‘unavoidable, necessary’ and also ‘ashes’, and ‘Diamond’ is ‘inflexible, strong, beautiful’.
  • ‘Nasturtium’ – a victory flower! But also one you can eat as a delicacy. A Six Nasturtium is a name for a very ambitious child whose parent has aspirations of grand and flamboyant success … but a Two Nasturtium is a serene and delicate child whose success, while assured, does not have to be grand.

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9 thoughts on “What’s in a Teixcalaanli Name?

  1. Given the number symbolism here, I think it’s fair to say that Twenty, at least in Twenty Cicada’s case, is “twice Ten”.

  2. Does it follow that large primes make “weirder” names than similarly-large composites? Is Thirty-Six somewhat prosaic (or trite), since it contains six sixes, but Thirty-Seven more outré?

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