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Page history last edited by Amber Autry 12 years, 4 months ago

"What's my name?"

The Aarne-Thompson (AT) classification of folktale types contains a motif known as “Name of the Helper” (Ashliman, 2010). The most widely known fairy tale involving this motif is the Grimm Brothers’ “Rumpelstilzchen” included in Kinder-und Hausmärchen or Children’’s and Household Tales, 1812 (Zipes, 2000). In this type of tale a person, usually a female, enters into an arrangement with a dwarf, goblin, or devil. Then, when the “helper” comes to collect the payment for his services the girl is upset. The helper then agrees to release the heroine from the deal if she is able to guess his name within a certain amount of time. Usually a lover, servant, or friend will happen across the helper in the woods. The helper, unaware of the prying ears, will say his name, mostly in reference to the belief that the heroine character will never be able to guess it. The listener then relays the name to the heroine and she is freed.

In the Grimm version of “Rumpelstiltskin,” a poor man, thinking to gain his daughter a better station, goes to the king. The poor man, a miller, tells that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The daughter is then captured and locked up in a room full of straw. The king tells her to spin the straw into gold, and if she doesn’t she’ll die. The girl despairs because she cannot do this, but then a funny little man appears (the helper). The man spins the straw into gold in exchange for her necklace. When the king sees what has happened he moves her into a larger room. The small man appears to help again, and this time she gives him her ring. The third night the king takes her into a larger room and promises to marry her if she can spin all the straw into gold. With nothing left, the miller’s daughter agrees to give up her first born child for the funny man’s assistance. The girl and the king are married, and when they have their first baby the short man shows up. In response to the Queen’s tears, the man states that if she can guess his name before three days are up then he will release her from the deal. She fails to guess correctly on the first and second day, but after receiving help from a servant who saw the man singing in the woods, she is able to guess correctly. His name is “Rumpelstiltskin.” The helper is so mad that he slams his foot into the ground. In an attempt to pull himself out, he tugs on his opposite leg, subsequently tearing himself in two.

The Brothers Grimm story is said to be an “amalgamation of three sources, one of which is similar to the influential ‘Ricdin-Ricdon’ (1696) by Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier, in which it is the king or prince who discloses the name.”” (Zipes, 2000). Lhértier’s tale is said to be loosely drawn from Giambattista Basile's "The Seven little Pork Rinds," from the Pentamerone (Bottigheimer, 2009). In this story a lazy girl, Saporita, eats seven pork rinds that her poor mother was preparing for a meal. The mother discovers the misdeed and proceeds to beat the girl as punishment. A merchant sees the mother beating Saporita and steps in to save her. He asks why the mom is punishing the girl and the mother says that the Saporita has been working too hard. She claims that the daughter filled seven spindles with flax. The man then marries the lazy girl thinking her capable of spinning seven spindles full in a short time. This is similar to the opening of “Rumpelstiltskin” in regards to the boasting of the miller about the skills of his daughter. In Basile’s tale Saporita is later helped by three fairies, but no deal is made, and there is no guessing of names.

Other stories that involve the AT’s “Name of the Helper” motif included “ Trit-a-Trot” from Ireland, “Terrytop-top from Cornwall, and Whuppity Stoorie from Scotland (Opie, 1974). There is also the English “Tom-Tit-Tot,” the Italian “Zorobubù,” and the Swedish “Titteli Ture”, also known as “The Girl Who Could Spin Gold from Clay and Long Straw” (Zipes, 2000). There are also stories such as “The Elfin-Knight,” a ballad, where the heroine guesses the answer to a number of riddles, one of them being the capturer’s, usually the devil’s, name (Warner, 1994). 

Check out the stories for yourself



  • Ashliman, D. (2010). Grimm brothers’ home page. Retrieved from http://www.pitt.edu.
  • Bottigheimer, B. (2009). Fairy tales: A new history. Albany, New York; State University of New York Press. 
  • Heiner H. (1999). SurLaLune fairy tales. Retrieved from www.surlalunefairytales.com.
  • Opie P., Opie I. (1974). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York, Oxford; Oxford University Press.
  • Owens, L. (1981). The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland; Crown Publishers, Inc., Random House.
  • Warner, M.(1994). From the beast to the blonde: On fairy tales and their tellers. New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Zipes, J. (2000). The Oxford companion to fairy tales: The western fairy tale tradition from medieval to modern. New York; Oxford University Press. 

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