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Jacques Lacan

Symbolic Father

When the expression "the name of the father" first appeared in Lacan’s work, in the early 1950s, it is without capital letters and refers generally to the "prohibitive role" of the "symbolic father" as the one who lays down the incest taboo in the Oedipus complex.

"It is in the 'name of the father' that we must recognize the support of the symbolic function which, from the dawn of history, has identified his person with the figure of the law."[1]

Legislative and Prohibitive Function

The rexpression is at once a semi-humorous religious allusion (In nomine patris) and a play on the near-homonyms non and nom: the name-of-the-father (le nom du père) is also the father's "no" (le "non" du père) to the child's incestuous desire for its mother.

From the beginning Lacan plays on the homophony of le nom du père (the name of the father) and le 'non' du père (the "no" of the father), to emphasize the legislative and prohibitive function of the symbolic father.

Master Signifier

A few years later, in the seminar on the psychoses, the expression becomes capitalized and hyphenated and takes on a more precise meaning; the Name-of-the-Father is now the master signifier which permits signification to proceed normally.

This master signifier both confers identity on the subject (it names him, positions him within the symbolic order) and signifies the Oedipal prohibition, the 'no' of the incest taboo.

If this signifier is foreclosed (not included in the symbolic order), the result is psychosis.

Paternal Metaphor
The paternal metaphor

In another work on psychosis, Lacan represents the Oedipus complex as a metaphor (paternal metaphor), in which one signifier (the Name-of-the-Father) substitutes another (the desire of the mother).

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.67