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