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The Secret Meaning Behind Elliot Page's Character's Name In Inception

It's been over a decade since Christopher Nolan dropped his classic feature Inception on our heads, and to nobody's surprise, there are still about a million unanswered questions about the film. It's an expertly designed puzzle box, one meant to be utterly provocative without giving away too many of its secrets, and we may never know (to cite the most prominent example) whether Leonardo DiCaprio's dream-invading "extractor" Dom Cobb literally dreamed up the movie's almost-too-perfect conclusion, or for that matter, whether the entire movie took place inside his troubled mind.

The characters who assist Cobb in his mission to plant the seed of a crucial idea in the mind of the heir (Cillian Murphy) of a massive business empire could plausibly be described as a bunch of archetypes, which lends nicely to the flick's narrative ambiguity. There's Eames (Tom Hardy), a master impersonator and identity thief; Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an all-business master planner of the team's missions; Yusuf (Dileep Rao), an uber-smart chemist and pharmacologist who uses his knowledge of anesthesia to assist the team with their excursions into the psyches of their targets; and the recently recruited Ariadne (Elliot Page), an "architect" who builds convincing worlds within those targets' dreams.

Ariadne's role is a critical one, and it's safe to say it takes her awhile to get the hang of it — but once her confidence starts to grow, it's clear why she was chosen. Her dream-weaving is key to the team's eventual success, but that's not the only thing that makes her a standout. Think for a moment: Have you ever heard the name "Ariadne" before? It's certainly a unique one, and if you recognize it, then you may be a student of a specific subset of classic literature.

The name Ariadne refers to a famous Greek myth

It so happens that in Greek mythology, Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who presided over a ritual in which young men and maidens of rival Athens were sacrificed to the fearsome Minotaur, a half-man-half-bull creature which resided at the center of a labyrinth which the king had commissioned. (The frequency of this ritual and the reasons for its, er, inception vary between tellings of the myth.) One year, brave Theseus, the son of King Aegeus of Athens, offered himself up to be sacrificed, intending to slay the beast. Fortunately for the young warrior, he benefited from an assist from King Minos' daughter: Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him.

Ariadne resolved to help guide Theseus through the labyrinth — in most versions of the myth, she gave him a ball of thread so he could find his way out once the Minotaur was dispatched. The successful mission ended up being the ultimate double-edged sword for the young man, however. He had promised his father the king that the returning Athenian ships would fly white sails if he had been successful, and black sails if he had been killed. Tragically, Theseus forgot this detail, and when Aegeus saw the ships' black sails on the horizon, he was overcome with grief. He committed suicide by plunging into the sea that now bears his name: The Aegean Sea, which divides modern-day Greece and Turkey.

Inception's Ariadne is, of course, the one who guides Cobb and his crew through the dream worlds she constructs — with the purpose of guiding their target to the notion which they wish to put in his head (to dissolve his ailing father's business empire). It's a sly reference, but then, it's not the only one among the names of Inception's characters.

Ariadne isn't the only Inception character whose name has hidden meaning

Although the names of some characters (such as Eames and Arthur) may or may not be more oblique references, some others are relatively easy to parse out. Take Yusuf, whose name comes from the Quran and whose story begins with a dream that he relates to his father, who immediately recognizes him as a prophet. Or the name of Cobb's late wife, who appears as a hostile "projection" who is constantly attempting to menace Cobb and thwart his missions. Her name is Molly, but Cobb refers to her as Mal — a Latin-derived prefix which simply means "bad." (Think "malignant," or "malevolent," or, um, "malodorous.")

Then, there's Cobb himself. That surname may very well be an in-joke, a reference to Nolan's first feature film, Following. In that flick, one of the main characters is also named Cobb; he's an exceedingly polite yet manipulative thief and con man who befriends a young man with the express purpose of framing him for his own crimes. Considering that many of Inception's character names have literary underpinnings, though, there's likely an even deeper meaning. You see, in Latin, "Dom" means "Lord," and if we stretch just a little, "Cobb" may be a shorter form of "Jacob" — as in the Biblical Jacob, whose name essentially means "he who supplants or replaces."

"Dom Cobb," then, could be taken to mean "he who replaces the Lord" — for in the dream worlds of Inception, Cobb is pretty much God. Of course, we could be way off base here ... but it sure hits the sweet spot for us, and as with all of Inception's other mysteries, Nolan is unlikely in the extreme to ever let us know for sure.