How many names do you go by? Your first response might be, one. But think about it…do you have a family nickname? A nickname you are only called by friends or people in certain situations, like a sports team? Does your mother perhaps refer to you by your first and middle name and no one else does that? I can think of at least ten variations of my birth name or other nicknames I’ve been called throughout my life.
If we mere mortal humans respond to different names, how many names might a powerful god go by?
Odin, the ruler of the Aesir gods of Norse mythology, tells us exactly how many!
In the poem, Grímnismál, in the Poetic Edda, Odin lists the names that he has called himself. And he says, “I have never been known by just one name, since I first walked among men.”*
Here are some of Odin’s many names:
- Battle Stirrer
- Curse Eye
- Long Beard
- All Father
- Shadowed Face
- Shield Shaker
- Wand Bearer
Odin uses all these different names depending on who he’s dealing with and the situation in which he finds himself. In the story of the Norse hero Sigurd, Odin shows himself and gives his name as Wise Man or Wise One, and in that story he tells Sigurd what he needs to do in order to fulfill his destiny. Of course, it was all in cryptic language, but Sigurd knew who the Wise One was and what the words meant.
Odin’s name Allfather, or Father of Men, is derived from his relationship in creating the first humans. After the world was created, the Allfather took a walk along the water with his brothers Vili and Ve, when they came across two pieces of wood, driftwood perhaps, one of elm and one of ash. Odin blew the breath of life into them, while Vili and Ve gave them other human attributes. In this way, the first humans, Ask and Embla were born. And that is why he’s known as the Allfather.
So many names. So many stories. So many facets to an intelligent, wisdom-seeking, cruel, capricious god.
Although he is known by many names, Odin has one main attribute, which I wrote about in another post, one way in which he’s always depicted–with one eye.
*translations of names by Dr. Jackson Crawford.