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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]

castrating father of the Oedipus complex who personifies the taboo on incest.

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan developed the concept of the Name-of-the-Father (le nom du père).

The expression is capitalized and hyphenated in the seminar on The Psychoses.

The Oedipus complex makes the father the agent of the prohibition that makes it the impossible to access the object-cause-of-desire.

French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan revised the oedipus complex in line with his structuralist attempt to combine psychoanalysis and linguistics.

The father is no longer a biological father, but a function of a father: the Name-of-the-Father.

The 'Name of the Father' refers to the laws and restrictions that control both desire and the rules of communication.

Prohibitive Function of the Symbolic Father

The expression “the name of the father,” when it first appeared in Lacan’s work, in the early 1950s, referred 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.”[2]

The “No” of the Father

In the French language, the expression “the name of the father” (le nom du père) is phonetically similar to the expression “the ‘no’ of the father” (le ‘non’ du père). Lacan plays on this similarity to emphasize the prohibitive function of the symbolic father (the ‘no’ of the incest taboo).

The term is a play on the near-homonyms non and nom.

The "Name-of-the-Father" (nom-du-père) can be read the "'No' of the Father" (non-du-père).

The 'No' refers to the symbolic prohibition The 'No' of the Father to the desire of the child for incestuous relations with the mother. The 'No' of the Father to the child's incestuous desire for the mother.


The Name of the Father' (Fr. ‘’Nom du père’’) , is the signifier associated with the signified concept of the father. The name of the Father is a symbolic formation.

The Name-of-the-Father is the fundamental signifier which permits signification to proceed normally.

This fundamental signifier both confers identity on the subject (insofar as it names him, positions him within the symbolic order, etc.) and signifies the oedipal prohibition, the ‘no’ of the incest taboo.


The foreclosure of the name-of-the-father, or its expulsion from the subject's symbolic universe, is said by Lacan to be the mechanism that triggers psychosis.

If this signifier is foreclosed (not included in the symbolic order), the result is psychosis. Nevertheless, Jacques Lacan developed this concept with the ultimately unsuccessful aim of curing psychosis.

Outside Language

The phallus, as a representation of mastery, can never be reached.

The father is above or outside the structure of language.

Language relies on the absence of the phallus from the structure of signification.

Language would not make sense, or produce meaning, if the phallus were not 'outside'.

Nothing can be thought that is outside of language, but the phallus is there and therefore structures the whole system of thought accordingly.

Freud vs Lacan

In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud

There was a father which the brothers killed.

The brothers felt guilty about killing their father.


The Name-of-the-Father is closely bound up with the superego, the phallus, the symbolic order, and the oedipus complex.

The Name-of-the-Father has a shadow double in the Father-of-Enjoyment.


  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. p.67
  • Lacan, Jacques. (2002). The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian subconscious. In Écrits: A selection (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton.