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In this short story, probably from Analog (in the 80s perhaps), a tribe of humans in a post-apocalyptic world has a shaman bless the hunting party before each venture. The shaman tries to use the preys' true name to make the blessing work, but he's been having bad luck lately, and his wife or girlfriend is about to leave him. But he somehow finds an ancient textbook, with pictures and Linnean names of many animals (the shaman can read a bit), and decides to use those names in his next spell (the ancients were mighty so the names they used were probably the best) - and it works. The hunting party comes back with a huge haul and the shaman gets the credit and respect he wants. It's not clear to me whether this was supposed to be good luck, or some actual magic.

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"Secret Names" (1992) by Harry Turtledove. First published in Analog, January 1992 and then collected in Departures.

Navigating through classes, orders, families, and genera took some doing, but before too long he found that the white-tailed deer’s scientific name, its secret name, was Odocoileus virginianus. He said it several times. It filled the mouth in a way that white-tailed deer never could. Saliva filled his mouth, too, at the thought of venison roasted with bacon and wild onions.

He left Mammalia and went over to Aves. He ran his finger down each column of names until he found what he was looking for. "Meleagris gallopavo," he intoned reverently, and then again: "Meleagris gallopavo." Not only were the secret names true, they were also beautiful. He knew he'd never be content just to say turkey again.

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  • Thank you. Should have suspected Turtledove
    – Andrew
    Apr 23 at 23:47
  • 6
    @Andrew I think you mean Streptopelia turtur ;)
    – user170231
    Apr 24 at 17:25
  • It's good that the shaman didn't live on the plains. He would have been disappointed by the secret name of the bison. Apr 24 at 20:15

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