In series 6, The Doctor lies that he told River his name (which River falsifies in the end of the episode). Yet in The Name of The Doctor she knows The Doctor's real name and even opens The Doctor's tomb with it. Also, The Tenth Doctor says that there was only one situation where he could possibly tell her his name. What of it?

So where, when & how exactly does River come to know The Doctor's name?

  • 5
    Unless they were lying about having lied. :)
    – BBlake
    Dec 30, 2013 at 13:18
  • 12
    I know I'm a few years late to the party but... maybe the Doctor's name is "Sweety". So every time River says "Hello, Sweety" she's calling him by name, but no one ever figures that out. And the Doctor doesn't tell people his name because he's embarrassed about it.
    – Tim
    Sep 27, 2017 at 2:47
  • 1
    You know boys have a bad habit of spilling deepest of deepest secret to girls while in bed..
    – user931
    Mar 2, 2018 at 10:18

11 Answers 11


Unknown. We don't even know what that "one situtation" is.

We can make some guesses, though. We do know that a large part of the relationship between River and the Doctor was not shown. In particular, we know that although River spent her days in Stormcage, she spent her nights with the Doctor. And, we can probably guess, they - erm - consummated their relationship at some point during those nights. And it's at least plausible that the "one situation" refers to precisely that moment, in which case it's highly doubtful that we'll ever see it on screen.

  • 2
    So either case, no canon on or off screen. That's sad. For me that's kind of a major thing. And now that 11's hour is gone, I don't think we're ever gonna hear about it.
    – Stark07
    Dec 30, 2013 at 12:04
  • The big problem: StormCage didn't have privacy..
    – user931
    Jan 18, 2015 at 11:39
  • 3
    – Ben
    Jun 24, 2015 at 5:37
  • Has anything significant changed in the past 3.5 years? I know we've seen more of River's timeline now.
    – jpmc26
    Jun 14, 2017 at 20:34
  • Does The Doctor ever whisper anything into River Song's ear in The Husbands of River Song? Mar 2, 2018 at 15:52

It seems it is still unknown, but...

ALMOST CERTAINLY: The Doctor did not tell River his name during their wedding.

At the end of The Wedding of River Song, River comes to Amy, at her Garden:

RIVER: Okay. I'm going to tell you what I probably shouldn't. The Doctor's last secret. Don't you want to know what he whispered in my ear?
AMY: He whispered his name.
RIVER: Not his name, no.
AMY: Yes, it was. He said it was.
RIVER: Rule One?
AMY: The Doctor lies.
RIVER: So do I, all the time. Have to. Spoilers. Pretending I don't know you're my mother, pretending I don't recognise a space suit in Florida.
AMY: What did he whisper in your ear?
RIVER: Oh, that man. He's always one step ahead of everyone. Always a plan.
AMY: River, what did he tell you? River.

River didn't tell...

BUT... In the following scene, the Doctor reveals to Dorium how he escaped death.

[Charnel house]
DORIUM: Is it you? It is, isn't it. It is you, I can sense it. But how did you do it? How could you possibly have escaped?
[Calisto B space bar]
CARTER [memory]: Is there nothing else we can do?
(The Doctor leaves, then pops back again with a big grin on his face.)
DOCTOR: Actually, thinking about it
[Receptor room]
(What the Doctor whispered was -)
DOCTOR: Look into my eye.
(The Doctor waves at River from the eyeball of the Teselecta.)

The episode clearly states that the Doctor did not tell River his name during the wedding. He told her to look into his eye. Of course, we can argue that THAT assumption is also a lie, but I think that would going too far down the rabbit hole.

LIKELY: The Doctor told River his name just before his "death" in Let's Kill Hitler.

(Rory and Amy move away from the Doctor, and let River approach.)
DOCTOR: Find her. Find River Song and tell her something from me.
RIVER: Tell her what?
(The Doctor whispers in her ear.)
RIVER: Well, I'm sure she knows.
(The Doctor is dead.)

There are people who argue that telling River his name would not drive her into saving him. But, as you can see in the clip, the Doctor whispers for about 5-6 seconds. I think he could have easily said this:

Tell her that my name is [tells his name] and that I love her.

River sighs as if he said something emotional (I love her) and she smiles while answering to something obvious (That River girl surely knows you love her and most certainly knows your name).

RIVER: Well, I'm sure she knows.

Telling her that he loves her would certainly drive her into saving him. He could have also slipped his name during the whispering.

PLUS, it makes sense that he told on the moment of his "death" since he really seemed to think that he would die. And it also supports the claim of the 10th Doctor in Forest of the Dead:

DOCTOR: River, you know my name.
COMPUTER: Autodestruct in ten
DOCTOR: You whispered my name in my ear.
COMPUTER: Nine, eight, seven
DOCTOR: There's only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There's only one time I could.
RIVER: Hush, now.

Of course, this could mean he would only tell her if he married her. Actually, I thought that when I first watched this. But still... He could be thinking that he would only tell her on the brink of death.

Well, that was a long post. I hope I have clearly shared my ideas about this question.

  • 2
    This should really be the accepted answer. Great work! May 17, 2019 at 8:45
  • 1
    @TheDarkLord It did get a 500-rep bounty though...
    – Anonymous
    Jun 4, 2021 at 23:23

I've always felt he told River his name in the episode Let's Kill Hitler when 11 whispers in her ear (as he's dying) which 10 makes us believe is the only time he can tell anyone his name. River responds with:

Well I'm sure she already knows that

(speaking of her future self and not knowing). That scenario always satisfied me on this question.

  • From memory, doesn't the Doctor later explain to his companions that he whispered 'Look into my eyes', letting River know he was safe and well inside the robot?
    – AerusDar
    Jan 22, 2014 at 2:01
  • @AerusDar That's in "The Wedding of River Song"; Let's Kill Hitler is the one where River's previous incarnation first poisoned and then saved the Doctor.
    – Zommuter
    Jun 10, 2015 at 15:43
  • This actually makes sense, come to think about it again. IIRC River said something along the lines of "I made him tell". So this or their final date...
    – Zommuter
    Aug 19, 2016 at 10:55
  • 1
    @Zommuter: Minor niggle: It wasn't River's previous incarnation who poisons the Doctor, she first turned from "Mels" into River, and then poisoned the Doctor (and subsequently saved him). Mels never kissed (and thus poisoned) the Doctor, but River did.
    – Flater
    Sep 27, 2017 at 8:03

According to what River said, she learned the Doctors name and got his old screwdriver when the doctor last saw her. She even said that he cried because he knew it was her time to go to the library ( where she died ) so he told her his name so Tenth (David Tennant) would believe her and for her to have the screwdriver she held on the library. Plus River said that the doctor had a different face, and according to the mini-episode series Night and the Doctor: (1.1 "Bad Night"; 1.2 "Good Night"; 1.3 "First Night"; 1.4 "Last Night"; 1.5 "Up All Night") it was the 11th (Matt Smith).

  • 5
    "she got his old screwdriver when the doctor last saw her". Yes, correct. "She learned the Doctor's name when the doctor last saw her". No, false. She never says when she learned his name. Rather, it is the (10th) Doctor himself who says that "there's only one situation where I would tell someone my name". Neither of them specify what that situation is.
    – Paul L
    May 19, 2016 at 20:08

He whispers it in her ear during The Wedding of River Song.

DOCTOR: Amy, uncuff me now. Okay, I need a strip of cloth about a foot long. Anything will do. Never mind.
(The Doctor takes off his bow tie.)
DOCTOR: River, take one end of this. Wrap it around your hand, and hold it out to me.
RIVER: What am I doing?
DOCTOR: As you're told. Now, we're in the middle of a combat zone, so we'll have to do the quick version. Captain Williams, say I consent and gladly give.
RORY: To what?
DOCTOR: Just say it. Please.
RORY: I consent and gladly give.
DOCTOR: Need you to say it too, mother of the bride.
AMY: I consent and gladly give.
DOCTOR: Now River, I'm about to whisper something in your ear, and you have to remember it very, very carefully, and tell no one what I said.
(He whispers something very short.)
DOCTOR: I just told you my name. Now, there you go, River Song. Melody Pond. You're the woman who married me. And wife, I have a request. This world is dying and it's my fault, and I can't bear it another day. Please, help me. There isn't another way.
RIVER: Then you may kiss the bride.
DOCTOR: I'll make it a good one.
RIVER: You'd better.

Also, here's the official Youtube video of this scene:

Of course, he could have been lying, but there's currently no reason to believe that he was, and as far as I know no other episode in which he claimed to have told her his real name. If he had already told her in Let's Kill Hitler, this dialogue wouldn't make a lot of sense.

  • 1
    This should be accepted as the answer.
    – SQB
    May 20, 2016 at 10:21
  • 7
    Isn't that the one where he claims to have actually said "look into my eyes"?
    – OrangeDog
    May 20, 2016 at 12:40
  • @OrangeDog That's a different scene which happens slightly later in the episode, after time is unbroken and they're redoing the Lake Silencio incident but with the Doctor safely inside the Teselecta this time.
    – Ixrec
    May 20, 2016 at 12:55
  • Ixrec, I believe @OrangeDog is right. The Doctor said "Look into my eye" Would you please take a look at my answer and give your opinion on what I wrote? Thanks
    – joaorodr84
    Jul 8, 2017 at 0:13
  • 3
    This answer has been disproven in later episodes.
    – Gnemlock
    Mar 4, 2018 at 1:38

First, a detail: I have not seen The Time of the Doctor, so I do not know if additional information was supplied therein.

The simple answer is that we do not know. River's method of learning the Doctor's name has not yet been shown or explained on-screen. It is strongly implied that she knew it before she died in the Library, however, as it's the Doctor's explanation for why he trusts her. On the other hand, "the Doctor [as written by Steven Moffat...] Lies", so...

This might seem to contradict the common understanding that the Doctor's encounters with River are in opposite orders on their timelines, but there is considerable evidence that they merely meet out of order, with most encounters being "the other way around". As such, there remains plenty of time for River to learn the Doctor's name in his future.

  • Hmm. True. But missing out such an important detail from the on-screen is rather bad.
    – Stark07
    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:53
  • 1
    Well, one part of me says "Yes, but this is Steven Moffat's writing we're talking about". Another, more generous part, suggests that it may be intended for a later reveal, or indeed just to keep the audience wondering.
    – Darael
    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:54
  • Yaa.... But it's a rather major thing to be in the "kept hanging" section.
    – Stark07
    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:55
  • More major than the name itself, which it is clear has been kept deliberately unrepresented since the beginning of the show?
    – Darael
    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:57
  • 2
    The most recent episodes have really tried to hammer in the idea that the Doctor's name is not important. It is just a name. Granted that it is used in important situations (although in "The Name of the Doctor", River states that shew "made" the Doctor tell her his name and that it "took a while" - but that is about all that we know), but at its core, it is nothing special. What matters is the Doctor's title, "the Doctor," and the promise that is inherent in that title. Just as he said in "The Name...", his real name isn't the point. The name that he chose is.
    – Amy
    Dec 30, 2013 at 23:44

I have rather conflicted ideas about this. One idea is that he says "tell River" and whispers "I love you" to River in Lets Kill Hitler, hence her reaction. But then again, he might have said that and then whispered "I love her and that my name is ***" It would fit with her reaction and response and also would fit with 10's response with the only situation being when the doctor was dying.

Then again, he might have told her his name AND look into my eyes when he married her. Both River and the Doctor lies, so maybe they only showed us one part of the whispering?

  • 1
    Or his name was "look into my eyes" (that is, that's how it sounded like in Gallifreyian).
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 28, 2015 at 16:51

I have a strong feeling that it was when River gave away her regenerations to save the doctor in the episode 'Let's Kill Hitler'. For one, his name is obviously very important and it has to be an extremely important event to be able to reveal his true name. Plus, when 10 was handcuffed and watching River sacrifice herself, he was completely devastated which I think was because he knew that she was time lord, he knew that he could only give it to her when she gives her regenerations to him.

  • 2
    This seems like pure guesswork.
    – Valorum
    Dec 10, 2014 at 18:13

It could have been on Demons Run that she learned his name. There is Gallifrayian writing on the cot. One would assume that since she’s part Time Lord, that she would know the language. I mean, she knows it doesn’t translate.

And the Doctor told Amy that it was his.

Then again, the Doctor lies.

Side note - But that also confuses me. She said “Oh, your cot. Haven’t seen that in a very long while.” BUT it was a flesh avatar newborn Melody that was there when he dug it out of the TARDIS, so when would River have seen it...? 🤔

  • 2
    The latter part of your answer should be asked as a new question. I suggest you edit it out and make a new post.
    – Edlothiad
    Mar 2, 2018 at 10:14
  • To answer your side note, the flesh avatar is linked to the real person, and yes, she's a newborn, but also part time lord, maybe they have better memory as a baby, or she just knew she had once been in his cot, even if she didn't remember it specifically.
    – Patronics
    Sep 5, 2023 at 19:03

Several years along, the best guess is that she learned his name during the twenty-four years of their "last night together" spent at the Singing Towers of Darillium, as shown at the end of The Husbands of River Song. This is the event described by River in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, the first time she was seen in the series.

River Song: Funny thing is, this means you've always known how I was going to die. All the time we've been together, you knew I was coming here. The last time I saw you, the real you, the future you, I mean, you turned up on my doorstep, with a new haircut and a suit. You took me to Darillium to see the Singing Towers. What a night that was. The Towers sang, and you cried... You wouldn't tell me why, but I suppose you knew it was time. My time. Time to come to the library. You even gave me your screwdriver. That should have been a clue.


He told her his name in the let's kill Hitler episode. The only time that Ten would think that he would tell River his name is when he dies, as his name is the thing that opens the door to his tomb, and therefore the last thing he would do before he dies. Ten knows about Trenzalore, as in the Time of the Doctor, he acknowledges and looks scared when Eleven tells him that they are going to Trenzalore. Thus this suggests he knows something about how it requires his name to open it.

In Let's kill Hitler, the Doctor thinks that he is dying, thus he would tell his name to River Song, to open his tomb

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.