This question: You can control a Demon by knowing its True Name, but why?

Got closed. I can see why as it's pushing into Opinion Based/Too Broad, but I don't really think it crosses the line - especially since the most recent edit.

However I don't disagree by enough to mod hammer it open (especially since I have a conflict of interest with one of the highest voted answers!). I did want to start a discussion though.

  1. Should it be closed?

  2. Is "plausibility" a valid criteria?

  • $\begingroup$ May I first say that this is the first time, on any SE site that I have seen the answers page. That is a little freaky, and also the problem, in my opinion. While the question is a lot of fun to answer there is no way to determine which the best answer is - especially now that there's so many of them. For that reason I have to say I agree with the close. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I've seen it a few times, it is rare. Keep in mind though that this question was on HNQ for a week. That led to a lot of people adding their thoughts...but when you look at the actual answers there was a lot of repeating. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think that having no way to decide which is the best answer is a good criteria for closure. I see the question is a little broad, but think it's still on topic. Well, a discussion will be very useful not just for this particular question, but also to definy the borders of the site, since questions with a similar broadness have already been asked. $\endgroup$
    – Eithne
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 17:15

7 Answers 7


I would like to suggest that the burden on building worlds should go to those who ask the question, rather than those who answer it. I understand Worldbuilding SE to be a place where you can come with a world you already have in mind, to ensure that it works how you think it does, or to see if there is a way to achieve what you want with the resources you have available.

In this case, I don't think enough of a world was provided. We get some explanation of what demons are, but nothing that could specifically be used in the context of the question. In essence, the question could be about how to control regular people by knowing their names. The problem that arises is that when you start adding in supernatural elements, answerers start to make assumptions about your world, and they start building their own interpretation of what they think you want.

What I think this leads to is a list of different worlds, where (in this case) a whole host of different kinds of demons are controlled via a whole lot of different methods, all having something to do with names. This isn't helping someone build their own world, it's giving them a bunch of pre-formed worlds and letting them pick the one they think is the most interesting.

This is why we ask for criteria. You need to flesh out the world you want, the systems you have available, the fundamental laws of your universe from which answers can be built. We may build worlds here, but we don't build them for other people, just like Stack Overflow doesn't do people's homework or write their software for them.

Now, this is just my understanding of the issue; there have been a lot of highly popular questions where the asker has done almost no work of their own, where every answer is its own world, and where there's really no good way to pick the best answer. If we want to destroy our integrity just to allow these questions to keep on being asked, then I guess I'd be okay with that. However, I do not believe that's what we're here for. I think the case studies proved that there are a lot of questions that can be asked that are interesting and useful and definitely on-topic and suitably constrained. But who knows, maybe I'm wrong.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well said. I was having trouble expressing exactly how I feel about this question, but you really nailed it. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, excellent points. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 14:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @TimB For some reason, this is an argument I'm almost afraid to win. I'm hoping there are some good rebuttals out there. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 14:58
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ As a counterpoint, one of the explicitly stated goals of the StackExchange network is to build a repository of Questions and Answers that can be a resource for future visitors. If we require too many details about the prospective world, then the answers will only be applicable to the original questioner and not future visitors. That's almost worse that having nebulous questions. $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @R.M. I definitely agree with you there, and that's something I'm kind of worried about. But I've seen plenty of questions on here that are very general, but in such a way that no assumption has to be made. Those are the kinds of questions I want, questions about the systems to build worlds rather than asking for someone else to do all the work for you. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 0:49

As the author of the question, and with a similar reluctance to @TimB to use my own modhammer to reopen, I humbly suggest that the question is in fact a perfect match for the Scope of our Worldbuilding Stack.

At the core, it is asking why a category of intelligent beings would be willing to subject themselves (or, less plausibly, be unwilling subjects to) to a code that seems on the face of it to go against their self interest.

In that sense, it is no different from another well-received question, also with over 10k views and with >100 votes answers, namely Why would vampires be incapable of entering a non-vampire human’s house uninvited?

My sense is that if we start closing "Why" questions as Opinion Based, that limits our Stack to simply helping people with figuring out orbital equations for binary worlds and calculating the caloric input for centaurs, which, while worthwhile, are less than Worldbuilding should be. We're not just a fleshy version of Wolfram Alpha here, we are Worldbuilders, and good worldbuilding includes justification for salient features present in that world. If there were super-human Demons, and they were subject to their True Names, it would be Curious and Strange to me. I'd want an Explanation. That's not Wolfram Alpha. That's Worldbuilding in all its glory.

I welcome discussion, up and re-open-votes!

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ My gut instinct as to the key difference between the vampire question and the True Name question is the science tag applied to the vampires. It grounds the question much more than simply looking for the “most plausible” (plausible in what context?) solution. The top answers for True Name literally invented contexts (worlds) in which it was plausible. Granted, they are both very similar questions and it wouldn’t be the first time an inconsistency occurred here. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 18:23

I don't think that questions like that should be closed. In many ways, they are the best questions that we have on the site. They are fun to answer and interesting to read.

The biggest problem that I have with closing them is that it blocks the asker from assistance. It would be easier to answer the question if there were more limits upon it, but how do we help the asker to the point of making those limits?

My basic criterion for closing a question as Too Broad is if I see a path to narrowness. As a general rule, this means some specific comment expressing changes to the question that could make it narrow enough to ask. This can certainly leave discretion to the poster, but it should also show the poster where that discretion could be exercised. Otherwise we're essentially saying, "Have a problem? Sucks to be you."

This question seems to catch a basic problem in fiction. "I want true names to matter, but why would they?" Not just the asker, but others could have that identical problem. Some of those people may have different preferences regarding how things should work. How do we help those people get to the point where they can ask more narrow questions? After all, isn't that our goal?

Unless a question is simply off-topic and not about world building, I don't think that we should be trying to permanently close it. We should be suspending it until edited into an answerable form.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the 4th paragraph here is the real answer to why a question like this is ultimately ok and should remain open. True names come up a lot in fiction and a question like this that has garnered several different yet good answers is helpful not just to the OP but also to future visitors. Which accomplishes SE's stated goal of making the interwebs a better place. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 0:47

As someone who also provided an answer (though apparently not quite as well liked as yours), I have to agree with the closure. The topic is definitely valid for Worldbuilding, as we can see in the numerous pieces of literature that feature creatures bound by True Names. But that's also the problem: every author approaches the concept of True Names in a different way.

Since we don't have demons in our real world (...or do we?), there's no plausible way to go ask why True Names bind. (Bonus points to anyone who finds a demon, asks the question, survives, and posts the response here.)

Given there are 34 answers as of this writing, and all of them are equally valid solutions to the problem, the "best" answer is found purely in the eyes of the beholder.


I haven't provided an answer, and being a low-reputation user I may not know enough to cast a valid answer, but in my opinion the question didn't worth the closure. I do agree it's near the border, but think it still respects the criteria. Maybe a little edit could be needed, but there are info enough to keep it on-topic, especially if we want to consider that the answers were required to have as little magic as possible.


This type of question could have required research-based answers, although it will attract opinion-based input.

If the inquirer had specified a religion/mythology, and framed the question in a way that requires academic research, then opinion answers would be invalid. Unfortunately this site of fiction authors is - by its very nature - prone to opinion-based answers.

The first demon named is from Mesopotamian mythology, also referenced in Judaism. Judaism is where (if I'm not mistaken) the "speaking the true name" tradition originated.

If this type of question falls under the purview of Mi Yodeya (Judiasm Stack Exchange) then I would recommend their experts comment with pertinent references. Since I don't see a Stack Exchange site for Occult or Supernatural inquiries, perhaps other educated answers would come from the Mythology Stack Exchange site.

When asking for real-world possibilities to explain stories within religion, mythology, tradition and/or superstition, both "plausibility" of science and "research-based" answers of the tradition must coexist.

The only problematic issue with the question is that all 3 sample demons listed are currently materials for the D&D RPG and the PF spinoff. The first comes from mythology, but the other 2 appear to have no basis in any tradition, being created solely for the game. If the inquirer intends this question to be answered in game terms - and no such information exists in the game's core rulebooks - then any answer would be wholly opinion based.

  • $\begingroup$ What is Mi Yodeya about again? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ @DamianYerrick: Thank you for correcting me; I somehow missed that when I did a quick search. I will edit accordingly. Regardless, my answer remains a propos. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @EverettSteed If the op requires input from DnD RPG people, he should have asked on rpg.SE, we have lots (!) of such questions. $\endgroup$ Commented May 3, 2016 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @AngeloFuchs: Of course I can't comment on the inquirer's motives. If he is writing fiction based upon a popular mythology (whether or not it was created for the game) then this is probably the best platform for that type of question. If he is writing game material for the game then perhaps the RPG site is the best... except that the RPG site is strongly devoted to what the rules say explicitly about the subject, and discourages discussions of non-canonical conjecture. This question is almost certainly about what other writers put in their fiction/fan-fiction of said mythology, not RPGs. $\endgroup$ Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:31

The number of views a question gets is one measure of the question's "goodness". Another is the number of votes.

While I hesitate to recommend treating high traffic questions and answers differently, perhaps we should work harder at reforming these questions.

True Names is a popular fantasy meme so clearly this type of question is appropriate for the world builder site.

How could we reform this question (and others like it) so that it no longer offends its detractors?

Is the main problem that there's no objective measure of the answers? If so, could it be solved by the OP providing a judging criteria?

  • $\begingroup$ This feels like it would work better as a question than an answer... $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ True. I'm just frustrated with the number of popular questions that are closed. It seems like we're shutting out some of the people this site is designed to help. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 1:43

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