In the story The Fifth Head of Cerberus, the protagonist has a name which is never stated explicitly, different from the "Number Five" by which his father and aunt refer to him.

I told [my father] my name, but he shook his head. "Not that. You must have another name for me - a private name. You may choose it yourself if you like."

I said nothing. It seemed to me quite impossible that I should have any name other than the two words which were, in some mystic sense I only respected without understanding, my name.

We know that it's the same name as his father's:

"Is that [Number Five] what you call him?"

"It's more convenient since his name is the same as my own."

What is his actual name? There are various references dropped through the story which might give us clues about it, but is there enough for us to deduce or at least guess at either of those "two words" which form his name?

1 Answer 1


The protagonist's name is Gene Wolfe.

Kim Stanley Robinson confirmed this with the author at SFRA in 1978:

There are clues in the text that the family’s last name is either canine or lupine, and that it begins with a W (indeed, the Monday and Tuesday Number Five finds on the shelf when looking for his father’s work would be a rare little chapbook by Virginia Woolf, there next to books by Kate Wilhelm and Vernor Vinge). And, as I once said in a report to a seminar, after describing why I thought Number Five’s family name was Wolf, “what better first name for a clone than Gene?” The groans caused by this pun were appropriately loud, but I was talking about one of the great punmeisters of our time, whose story “Thag” ends with a character named Harry Naler who turns out to be a hairy nailer (of the serpent’s tail to the floor); so when I next saw Wolfe, at the SFRA conference in 1978, I told him my joke, and he nodded gravely. “You are the first person I know of to have guessed Number Five’s name,” he said.

  • Thanks, that's very interesting! Could you possibly edit to add some clues from the text that indicate this conclusion? E.g. what suggests that the family's name is canine or lupine?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 27, 2017 at 10:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.