A noa-name is a word that replaces a taboo word, generally out of fear that the true name would summon the thing. The term derives from the Polynesian concept of noa, which is the antonym of tapu (from which we get the word taboo) and serves to lift the tapu from a person or object.
A noa-name is sometimes described as a euphemism, though the meaning is more specific; a noa-name is a non-taboo synonym used to avoid bad luck, and replaces a name considered dangerous. The noa-name may be innocuous or flattering, or it may be more accusatory.
Examples of noa-names are:
- In Swedish, the word ulv ('wolf') was replaced by varg ('stranger'), while the word for bear, (björn) is a noa-name meaning 'brown'. The spirits of the hearth, tomte, (corresponding to the Scottish brownie, or the Cornish pixie) were known as nisse, ('dear little relatives')
- In English, the Devil has been referred to by a variety of names (e.g. 'Old Nick', 'Mr. Scratch') to avoid attracting his attention through his name
- In Irish folklore, leprechauns are referred to as 'the little people'
- In Greek legend, the Erinyes (the Furies, the spirits of revenge) were commonly known as the eumenides ('the benevolent ones')
- In Jewish culture, it is forbidden to speak the name of God (represented as YHWH) and the noa-name adonai, 'my lord', is used instead