In Garth Nix's book Sabriel, the titular character discovers a statue of a man. She is able to reanimate the man, she asks his name, and he replies "Touchstone." She replies something along the lines of "Touchstone? That's a fool's name." (I don't have the book with me so I can't quote it exactly.)

It is made obvious that it's not the man's original name, and it is also obviously (in both the book's world and ours) a dictionary word and not a "real" name... but why is it a fool's name specifically? Granted, dictionary words are not common as names, but it's not unheard of, and arguably "Touchstone" is a reasonably serious-sounding word to use.

Is there some in-world reason to say this? Given the book's fantasy trappings, is there a real-world cultural or historical reason that a fool would have or choose a word as a name?

1 Answer 1


There is a little play on words happening here it seems; I think Sabriel isn't claiming the name itself is a foolish name, nor is she calling Touchstone himself unwise or imprudent (a literal fool).

Instead, she's referring to the second definition of the word: a court jester. Many of the royal courts throughout history employed jesters for variety of entertainment: music, singing, and storytelling to name a few.

Touchstone is the court jester in Shakespeare's play As You Like It.

The passage from the book makes it clear she's definitely referring to the word "fool" to mean "jester":

“Touchstone?” asked Sabriel. That sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it for a moment. “Touchstone? But that’s a jester’s name, a fool’s name. Why call you that?”

Sabriel - Chapter 14

  • 6
    AHA. So I did have the vague notion that she might have meant "it is the kind of name a clown would have," but I was missing the Shakespeare reference to really make sense of it. Thank you.
    – detly
    Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 16:18
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    @detly - In fact, there was a "Shakespeare" of sorts in Ancelstierre, and while I don't know whether she wrote As You Like It, she probably wrote something similar.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 17:37
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    Yes, Charlotte Breakespear, who is obviously the Ancelstierran version of Shakespeare. Since she wrote The Three Noble Kinswoman, I would bet on a play called As I Like It with a character called something similar to Touchstone.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 17:46
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    I had always assumed it had in-world associations as a jester's name but didn't realise it got those from our world – clearly need to brush up my Shakespeare...
    – dbmag9
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 18:43

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