A glossary of people, places & objects in Earthsea

Now showing glossary items relating to language, literature & names

Childhood name

Also known as: Child-name

Name given by the mother to a baby, sometimes retained as a use-name in adulthood. Examples are Duny, Arrendek

Related entries: Names


See Childhood name

Children's tales

Also known as: Tales, children's, Stories, children's

Stories told to children on Gont include variants of Earth fairy tales, featuring wicked witches, enchanted sleep and kisses from mage princes, or, as told in the story of Andaur and Avad, woodcutters and trees with human voices. A more distinctive Gontish fable tells of an ant taking a hair of the mage Brost, making the ants' nest glow in the dark to the eye of the wise. Another story on Gont tells of cat ghosts. Tales often begin with the phrase 'as long ago as forever, as far away as Selidor'a, the Archipelagan equivalent of 'once upon a time'. Stories are timed to the seasons; the cat ghost story is said to be a summer story, while the great stories, such as the Creation of Éa, Winter Carol & Deed of the Young King, are learned in winter

Sources: Kalessin, T; Bettering, T; Finding Words, T (a); Home, T

'"Come into the forest with me, dearie!" said the old witches in the tales told to the children of Gont. "Come with me and I'll show you such a pretty sight!" And then the witch shut the child in her oven and baked it brown and ate it, or dropped it into her well, where it hopped and croaked dismally for ever, or put it to sleep for a hundred years inside a great stone, till the King's Son should come, the Mage Prince, to shatter the stone with a word, wake the maiden with a kiss, and slay the wicked witch…'

[Kalessin, T]

Common tongue

See Hardic


Oral messages or written notes, carried by travellers or on ships, are used for communication over distances. Mention is made of a message bird, presumably carrying a written message. Wizards can communicate by sending, though sendings cannot cross water

Sources: The School for Wizards, WoE; The Rowan Tree, FS; Selidor, FS; The Dragon Council, OW

Related entries: Writing


See Other breath


Also known as: Common tongue

General language of the Archipelago, derived from the Old Speech. Whilst Hardic is widely spoken in the Archipelago and the Reaches, some islands, such as Enlad and Osskil, have their own languages or dialects. The Children of the Open Sea (raft people) speak a heavily accented but understandable version of Hardic. Hardic is not spoken in the Kargad Lands

'The Hardic tongue of the Archipelago, though it has no more magic power in it than any other tongue of men, has its roots in the Old Speech…'

[The Shadow, WoE]

Related entries: Language

Further information on Hardic

Hardic runes

Also known as: Runic writing

Non-magical runes used for general writing purposes in the Archipelago, for example Ogion's letter to Nemmerle. Not the same as the Six Hundred Runes of Hardic, which are True Runes, used for magic. Possible examples include the rune of the Closed Door, the rune of the Closed Mouth, rune of the Talon and the sword-rune

Sources: The School for Wizards, WoE; A Description of Earthsea, TfE


The language of the Kargad Lands. It is dissimilar to those spoken in the Archipelago, being closest to Osskili, though its eventual derivation (like all Earthsea languages) is from Old Speech. The Kargish dialects spoken on Atuan, Karego-At and Hur-at-Hur appear to be mutually comprehensible. Few even among highly educated Archipelagans speak any Kargish, and vice versa; Seserakh of Hur-at-Hur did not know there was any language besides Kargish

Sources: A Description of Earthsea, TfE

Related entries: Language

Further information on Kargish

King's Tale

Tale of Ged's travels in the Kargad Lands and the finding of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, presumably composed by Lebannen

Sources: Dragonfly, TfE


Two main languages are spoken in Earthsea: Hardic (the common tongue), spoken across much of the Archipelago & the Reaches, and Kargish, which is restricted to the Kargad Lands. Some islands in the Archipelago have their own languages or dialects, eg the language spoken on Enlad, of which little is known, and Osskili spoken on Osskil & neighbouring islands, which is closer to Kargish than Hardic. Educated speakers of the Enlad language or Osskili probably speak Hardic in addition, as Lebannen and Serret do.

All these languages are derived from Old Speech (true speech), the language spoken by dragons and learned by mages, Hardic being the closest. Old Speech is not usually used as a spoken language by humans

Sources: A Description of Earthsea, TfE

Further information on Language

Language of the Making

See Old Speech


Adults in the Archipelago bear three names. The first is the childhood name given to them by their mother as a baby. The second is their secret true name, a word in the Old Speech, given to them when they reach thirteen at a ceremony called the Passage into manhood; knowledge of a person's true name confers power over them. The third name is a use-name or nickname that they are called by during their adult life; while true names are particular to the person, use-names are often very common. Common use-names derive from plants, flowers, trees, animals, birds and jewels. For example, Ged is a true name, Sparrowhawk is a use-name and Duny is a childhood name.

The Kargs bear only a single name, which is not in the Old Speech, contains no power and is not kept secret; usually it has meaning in Kargish. As with the Archipelagan names, flowers and trees are common, but also qualities, such as Hope or Honour, and traditional names handed down within families. Both masculine and feminine Kargish names commonly end -ar (eg Tenar, Ensar); feminine endings include -a (Arha, Nathabba) , -e (Penthe, Poppe), -ath/ith (Munith, Tiarath) and -il (Anthil, Kossil); masculine endings include -i/y (Duby, Punti), -o (Uahto) and -an/in (Intathin, Manan)

Sources: Warriors in the Mist, WoE; Dragonfly, TfE; A Description of Earthsea, TfE; The Dragon Council, OW


See Use-name

Old Speech

Also known as: True Speech, Language of the Making, Speech/Words of the Making, True Language of the Making, True Words, Eldest tongue, Dragon tongue, spellwords

The language of magic, spoken by dragons and learned by wizards. All languages of Earthsea are ultimately derived from it, but Hardic has the closest roots. Words of the Old Speech are termed spellwords by some, denoting their inherent power: 'Spellwords act'a. Humans are bound to the truth speaking it; not so dragons

Sources: The School for Wizards, WoE; A Description of Earthsea, TfE; Dolphin, OW (a)

'"That is the language dragons speak, and the language Segoy spoke who made the islands of the world, and the language of our lays and songs, spells, enchantments, and invocations. Its words lie hidden among our Hardic words. … Any witch knows a few of these words in the Old Speech, and a mage knows many. But there are many more, and some have been lost over the ages, and some have been hidden, and some are known only to dragons and to the Old Powers of Earth, and some are known to no living creature; and no man could learn them all. For there is no end to that language."'

[The School for Wizards, WoE]

Related entries: Language

Further information on Old Speech


Language spoken on Osskil and two islands northwest of it (probably Borth and Rogmy). Originally derived from Old Speech, as are all languages of Earthsea, but closer to Kargish than to Hardic

Sources: A Description of Earthsea, TfE

Related entries: Language

Further information on Osskili

Other breath

Also known as: Eduevana

Words spoken in prophesy; eduevana is Kargish

'"There came on me what my people call the eduevana, the other breath. Words came to me and I spoke them."'

[Dragonfly, TfE]


Poets are mentioned as among the members of the King's Council. Most poetic expression appears to take the form of songs, so poets may (also) be song writers

Sources: The Dragon Council, OW


Also known as: Sayings

Numerous proverbs and sayings are quoted, many of which pertain to magic. They include: 'Infinite are the arguments of mages' (commonly cited); 'Weak as woman's magic, wicked as woman's magic', 'Better shark than herring' & 'Hot snow, dry water' from Gont; 'Two staffs in one town must come to blows' & 'Rules change in the Reaches' in the East Reach; 'As fat as a cow of Iria', 'As lucky as an Irian', 'If a word can heal, a word can wound. … If a hand can kill, a hand can cure. It's a poor cart that goes only one direction' & 'a wizard without his porridge' (meaning an unprecedented event) from Way; and 'the man drowning doesn't ask what the rope cost.' from Taon

Sources: Warriors in the Mist, WoE; Iffish, WoE; Mice, T; Winter, T; Dragonfly, TfE; Dolphin, OW

Rules of Names

Two rules relating to names are taught on Sattins island: never ask anyone their true name and never tell your own. Though not formally codified elsewhere, these rules are followed across the Archipelago & Reaches

Sources: The Rule of Names, W12Q

Rune of the Closed Mouth

Rune used as signature by Ogion

Sources: The School for Wizards, WoE

Related entries: Runes

Rune of the Talon

Rune used as signature by Ged; possibly one of the Hardic runes

Sources: Palaces, OW

Related entries: Runes


True Runes or Runes of Power, such as the Six Hundred Runes of Hardic, Further Runes and Runes of Éa, are used for magic. Non-magical Hardic runes are also used for general writing purposes in the Archipelago

Sources: A Description of Earthsea, TfE

Related entries: Books

Runic writing

See Hardic runes


See Proverbs

Stories, children's

See Children's tales

Story of Andaur and Avad

One of the children's tales told on Gont; it tells of a woodcutter, Andaur, who cut down a great oak which cried out in a human voice

Sources: Finding Words, T

Tales, children's

See Children's tales


Master and mistress are common courtesy titles used across the Archipelago and Reaches, as well as on Atuan. Titles based on occupation (eg farmer, sea-captain) are used in the Archipelago and Reaches. According to 'The Rule of Names', Mr, Mrs and Goody (of widows) are used on Sattins island in the East Reach, but not mentioned elsewhere. Aristocratic titles used in the Archipelago include lord, lady, prince and princess; only the King of All the Isles or King of Earthsea is addressed as a king. In the Kargad Lands, the Godking is styled Emperor; Thol is addressed as High King

Sources: The Rule of Names, W12Q; Light under the Hill, ToA; Hort Town, FS; A Bad Thing, T; Palaces, OW

True name

Name given to Archipelagans by a witch/wizard when they reach thirteen at a ceremony called the Passage into manhood; a word in the Old Speech. The true name is particular to the person: no two people will bear the same name. Knowledge of this name confers power over the person, living or dead, and accordingly it is kept secret, only being revealed to very close family and perhaps to true friends. Speaking aloud the true name prevents the person from using magic, and breaks illusions, causing the person's true shape to be shown: 'As she said his name she saw him perfectly clearly, the dark scarred face she knew, the dark eyes; yet there stood the milk-faced stranger.'a Usually it is kept for life, though a wizard can rename an adult, as, for example, Ged does Akaren. It's unclear whether it's retained after death; summoning of the dead appears to use true names, but in Alder's dreams of the dry land, Lily states that her true name is no longer her name. The conferral of true names is said to have been started by the Rune Makers a thousand years before the first kings of Enlad; they used the arts of naming to lay 'a great net of spells upon all the western lands, so that when the people of the islands die, they would come to the west beyond the west and live there in spirit forever.'b

The people of the Kargad Lands do not bear true names; Azver, the Kargish Master Patterner, learned his true name from the trees of the Immanent Grove

Sources: Warriors in the Mist, WoE; The Loosing of the Shadow, WoE; The Western Mountains, ToA (a); Lorbanery, FS; Dragonfly, TfE; Mending the Green Pitcher, OW; The Dragon Council, OW; Rejoining, OW (b)

'"They taught us to give each soul its true name: which is its truth, its self. And with their power they granted to those who bear their true name life beyond the body's death."'

[Rejoining, OW]

Related entries: Names; Naming; Religion and the afterlife

True Speech

See Old Speech


Also known as: Nickname

Nickname that Archipelagans are called by during their adult life, usually a word in their language/dialect. May be their mother's childhood name or a nickname conferred by their peers. Unlike the true name, use-names are often very common, and a person may bear several during their lifetime (Medra, for example, is called successively Otter and Tern). Common use-names derive from plants or trees (eg Vetch, Alder, Berry), animals or birds (eg Dragonfly, Hawk, Hound), jewels (eg Jasper, Beryl, Diamond) or precious materials (eg Ivory, Onyx). Use-names for women are often flowers, such as Rose, Daisy or Lily

Sources: Warriors in the Mist, WoE; The Finder, TfE; Dragonfly, TfE

'People who have a secret name that holds their power the way a diamond holds light may well like their public name to be ordinary, common, like other people's names.'

[Dragonfly, TfE]

Related entries: Names


Hardic runes appear to be used for general writing purposes in the Archipelago and Reaches, for example Ogion's letter to Nemmerle. Writing implements mentioned include an inkstone, ink bottle, brush and goose quills with a substrate of vellum, parchment or paper. In the Archipelago/Reaches, reading and writing appear to be largely the province of wizards, lords/princes and the moderately wealthy (for example, the mender Alder reads very little); history is largely passed from generation to generation orally in songs and chants. In the original Earthsea trilogy, reading and writing are said to be outlawed in the Kargad Lands, being among the black arts. However, in later novels, writing using Hardic runes is mentioned for some secular purposes; Thol's emissaries bring Lebannen a gilded scroll written in big Hardic runes (though the ambassador speaks Hardic but doesn't read it)

Sources: The Shadow, WoE; The School for Wizards, WoE; The Masters of Roke, FS; Mice, T; Palaces, OW

Related entries: Books



WoEA Wizard of Earthsea
ToAThe Tombs of Atuan
FSThe Farthest Shore
OWThe Other Wind
W12QThe Wind's Twelve Quarters
TfETales from Earthsea

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