Timothée Chalamet’s many, many monikers in the world of Dune

This article contains spoilers. Watch out!

For newbies to the world of Dune, Frank Herbert’s notoriously dense 1965 science-fiction epic can feel as if it contains as many pitfalls as a desert full of sandworms. Luckily, Denis Villeneuve’s two-part adaptation of this novel about warring space clans and the interstellar drug trade manages to streamline things a bit (while still clocking in at a cumulative 320-plus minutes). But viewers of the second part, which premiered Friday, still might exit the theater with some questions. Chief among them: Why does Timothée Chalamet’s protagonist have so … many … names?

Names hold an important place within the mythology of Dune. They are used to bolster revolutions and highlight important bloodlines. Many of the proper nouns Herbert invented for Dune have roots in Arabic tradition; they’re not just combinations of letters.

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There’s a key scene near the final act of “Dune: Part Two” in which the hero — the scion of a once-powerful noble family who’s rumored to be a kind of messiah — declares his character to be named Paul Muad’Dib Atreides. Sure, it sounds cool, but it also signals a key development for a character confronting his possible destiny … a destiny that includes at least five other names. What? Why? Grab your grotesque novelty popcorn bucket and I’ll explain.

Paul Atreides

We’ll start out simple. Atreides is Paul’s family name, one of the great houses in the Dune universe and a major political power. At the beginning of “Dune: Part One” (2021), a representative of the interplanetary government refers to the Atreides house as “one of oldest and most respected members of the Landsraad” — that is, the galaxy’s ruling council. By the end of the first film, Paul’s father has been killed, leaving the family powerless and in disarray.

Muad’Dib

This is a moniker Paul chooses for himself during his time with the Fremen, the desert-dwelling people who populate the planet Arrakis, where much of the story’s action occurs. It is the name of a desert mouse — shown in both of the Villeneuve-directed films — that lives on the barren landscape. Obviously, it’s symbolic. The mouse is small yet durable (you might even say Chalamet-esque). And it is able to survive in the Arrakeen deserts and produce its own moisture a foreshadowing of Paul’s goal to one day bring water and greenery to Arrakis.

This means “the base of the pillar.” It’s the name given to Paul by his Fremen mentor and superfan, Stilgar (played by Javier Bardem). While Muad’Dib is a name that’s used publicly, referenced both on Arrakis and off, Usul is Paul’s secret name. These two names are assigned, one after another, in a pivotal scene in both the book and the film — the former a revolutionary’s moniker, the latter a Fremen warrior’s honorific. As Stilgar explains in the book, “We of Sietch Tabr [the community that Stilgar leads] may use it, but none other may so presume.”

Lisan al Gaib

First introduced in the 2021 film, Lisan al Gaib is a name used by the Fremen to describe their messianic prophet. As Paul’s mother, Jessica, explains upon their arrival on Arrakis, it means “voice from the outer world. It’s their name for messiah.” She continues, “It means the Bene Gesserit have been at work here.” Paul is able to fulfill his role as revolutionary leader of the Fremen in part because of plans laid by the Bene Gesserit — the mysterious order of space witches, of which his mother is a member, shown throughout both films.

The term is used somewhat interchangeably by the Fremen people with “Mahdi.” A back appendix in the novel “Dune” suggests that “Lisan al Gaib” references Paul’s clairvoyant abilities, while “Mahdi” refers to his role among the Fremen as “The One Who Will Lead Us to Paradise.”

Kwisatz Haderach

Throughout the book, the term Kwisatz Haderach is described in a number of different ways. The Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) describes the person as “the one who can be many places at once” and “the male who truly can become one of us.” (The Bene Gesserit, which she leads, is all women.) Later, Jessica reveals the phrase to literally mean “the shortening of the way.” Put simply, the Kwisatz Haderach is a man with the abilities of a Bene Gesserit. For generations, the Bene Gesserit has been combining bloodlines with the ultimate goal of producing the Kwisatz Haderach. When Paul drinks the Water of Life (it looks like blue Powerade), he gains the ability of foresight, potentially becoming the Kwisatz Haderach.

The Fedaykin are Fremen death commandos. Led by Stilgar, the members include Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun), who is killed at the end of the first film; Chani (Zendaya); and Shishakli (Souheila Yacoub). Although the term is not specific to Paul, he does become a member of the fighting force, and participates in the Desert War on Arrakis. In the books to follow, the term Fedaykin is used to describe Paul’s personal guards as his empire expands across the galaxy.

The Abomination

Throughout the original books, the term is frequently used to describe Paul’s sister, Alia. Because of structural changes in the movie adaptation, Alia is still unborn by the climax of the second film. She is shown only as an unborn fetus; in a flash-forward, she’s portrayed as Anya Taylor-Joy. As a result, the term is applied to Paul instead. Paul (and Alia) are considered Abominations because of their immense knowledge and prescience at such early ages. This is the result of the siblings being exposed to the Water of Life, giving them knowledge of past generations and reverend mothers.

Got all that? Just don’t forget your popcorn bucket.

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