Interesting... I wrote a bit about this for our Iaido magazine - "Obi".
The Naming of Swords
by Gwyn Mowll
Whilst cleaning my Nihonto the other day, I noticed how over the years I have given them
all names. This was not intentional at all, it simply happened. It's very useful as well
because I can reference which one is which when writing up on them and cataloguing.
Some are indeed named after the smith that made the blade and I have two Gunto's (WWII
Blades) named Yoshe Tsugu and KaneTsuna. The very first Nihonto I collected, an antique
Chisaii Katana (Small Katana) is called Hiroda after the name written in ink on the inside of
the leather combat cover that it was found in. Another Katana I have has very nice Koshirae
of two friends or scholars doing various things like having tea together, so this one was
named Tomodachi (Friend) because of the theme on these lovely fittings. The Koto
Nambucho blade I have came with both Iai fittings and with a spare set of original Koshirae.
It was originally Oshita Sensei's sword. On swinging this sword, it has a deep sultry
sounding Tachi Kaze, hence I named her "Marlene" (after the singer and actress Marlene
Dietrich.) The sword made by Sada Toshi is housed in magnificent Koshirae made by Ford
Hallam. The Tsuba, Fuchi and Kashira depict reeds on the river whilst the Menuki are
Dragonflies resting on a pebble. This riverside theme is enhanced with light green Tuka Ito
and Sageo. She is called "River Song". Another Chisaii Katana I have is very old and the
steel is now "tired" (probably won't take another polish) She is named O-Baa Chan
(Grandmother). My iaito is called Tsugi Kage (Moon Shadow).
Naming swords is not an unique thing, throughout history we have heard the legends of
famous men and their swords and these swords had names.
Perhaps the most famous of all is "Caledfwlch"; Arthur's sword known more famously as
"Excalibur". Caledfwlch which translates from Welsh as "Hard cleft" was first mentioned in
the ancient Welsh oral stories known as the "Mabinogi". These oral stories were originally
the basis for Geoffrey of Monmouth's much later writings that gave birth to the Arthurian
legends and it was he who gave the sword a more French sounding name hence Excalibur.
Caledfwlch is described in the Mabinogi in the story called The Dream of Rhonabwy,
"Then they heard Cadwr, Earl of Cornwall being summoned, and saw him rise with Arthur's
sword in his hand, with a design of two serpents on the golden hilt; when the sword was
unsheathed what was seen from the mouths of the two serpents was like two flames of fire,
so dreadful that it was not easy for anyone to look."
Most people think of Caledfwlch as a Cross hilted sword, however that design came much
later and the "real" Caledfwlch probably would have been based on a Roman Spatha or
Cavalry sword as it is believed that the real Arthur was a post Roman era (Romano Briton)
war chief struggling to defend this land "Prydain" against the Angles, the Saxons and the
The Japanese also have their legends and the most famous sword in all of Japan's history is
Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, a sacred sword found in the tail of a slain monster which became one
of the three sacred treasures. In the Tale of the Heike, a collection of oral stories transcribed
in 1371, the sword is lost at sea after a naval battle.There are many other famous swords some real, some fictional that have entered the history
or story books, the following being only a few:
Colada and Tizona are the legendary swords of El Cid, Campeador of Spain.
Zulfiqar the legendary sword of Ali ibn Abi Talib (cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic
Joyeuse - Charlemagne’s sword.
Legbiter - a sword that belonged to the Viking King Magnus III.
William Wallace’s sword.
Honjo Masamune - The most famous of all Masamune swords is named Honjo Masamune.
The Honjo Masamune is so important because it represented the Shogunate during the Edo
period of Japan. The sword was passed down from one Shogun to another for generations.
In 1939 the weapon was named a national treasure in Japan, but remained in the Kii branch
of the Tokugawa family. The last known owner of Honjo Masamune was Tokugawa Iemasa.
Apparently Tokugawa Iemasa gave the weapon and 14 other swords to a police station in
Mejiro, Japan, in December of 1945. Shortly thereafter in January 1946, the Mejiro police
gave the swords to Sgt. Coldy Bimore (U.S. 7th Cavalry). Since that time, the Honjo
Masamune has gone missing and the whereabouts of the sword remains a mystery. Honjo
Masamune is one of the most important historical artefact to disappear at the end of World
Gwynedd Seiro Kan Dojo