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French: Nom-du-Père
Translator's Note

This concept derives, in a sense, from the mythical, symbolic father of Freud's Totem and Taboo.

In terms of Lacan's three orders, it refers not to the real father, nor to the imaginary father (the paternal imago), but to the symbolic father.

Freud, says Lacan, was led irresistibly "to link the appearance of the signifier of the Father, as the author of the Law, to death, even to the murder of the Father, thus showing that although this murder is the fruitful moment of the debt through which the subject binds himself for life to the law, the symbolic Father, in so far as he signifies this Law, is certainly the dead Father."[1]

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 legislative and prohibitive function of the "symbolic father" as the one who lays down the taboo on incest 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."[2]

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.

to emphasize the legislative and prohibitive function of the symbolic father.

Fundamental Signifier

In Lacan's 1955-6 seminar, The Psychoses, the expression becomes capitalized and hyphenated and takes on a more precise meaning; the Name-of-the-Father is described as the fundamental signifier which permits signification to proceed normally.

The Name-of-the-Father both confers identity on human subjects (by situating them in a lineage and the symbolic order), and signifies the Oedipal prohibition, the 'no' of the incest taboo.


The foreclosure] of this fundamental signifier, or its expulsion from the subject's symbolic universe, is said by Lacan to be the mechanism that triggers 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. "D'une question preliminaire a tout traitement possible de la psychose." Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966: 531-83 ["On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis." Trans. Alan Sheridan Écrits: A Selection. London: Tavistock, 1977; New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1977: 179-225].
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.67