Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Hunter x Hunter.
Names play a crucial role in the Chimera Ant arc. Giving people and things names is a fundamentally human trait, after all, and is a major factor in showing the Chimera Ants’ growing humanity. At the start, none of them even have names of their own. They identify each other by their roles-soldier, squadron leader, queen, etc.-and aren’t even aware of the concept of giving individual names. They’re all just parts of a greater whole and focus on serving their roles in the colony.
The first time the Ants encounter the concept of names is through the humans they hunt down for food. Their initial reason for adopting names of their own is simply convenience; having names made it easier to identify each other and coordinate. That was how it began, but things quickly changed.
Shortly after they all chose names of their own, the Ants began acting more and more individualistic. Some remained focused on gathering food for the queen, while others began to care more about enjoying the hunt, a selfish desire that was never present before. As soon as the Ants began identifying themselves as individuals, they also began developing individual goals, desires, and ideas. Even if their actions were monstrous, the fact that the Ants began identifying themselves as individuals meant that they were becoming more human than ant, since ants don’t have any concept of individuality.
The Ants also began to care more about what their names were. Colt, one of the squadron leaders, was originally a human boy named Kurt. The parallels between their names aren’t immediately obvious to most English speakers, but the way the two names are written and pronounced in Japanese are almost identical: Colt is Koruto (コルト) and Kurt is Kuruto (クルト). The fact that Colt chose a name so similar to his human name reveals that, consciously or not, he still held some attachment to his human side. Colt later becomes the first Ant to peacefully reach out to humans in the hope that the Hunters can help save the queen’s life, and is the first Ant to show real humanity. His choice of name was an early sign of his underlying humanity, which is just one example of an Ant’s name holding some meaning for them.
The Ants’ burgeoning humanity is later shown in Hagya’s actions. Hagya was always proud of being part lion-he loved bragging about being king of the jungle and such-so he changed his name to Leol, which sounds closer to lion, in the latter half of the arc. Just changing one’s name wouldn’t normally be to significant, but the fact that Leol wanted a different name and actually got angry at anyone who used his old name shows a major change in his attitude toward names. The Ants all initially chose their names out of convenience, not any emotional attachment, but Leol changing his name means that it mattered to him beyond a simple designation for convenience. He wanted his name to reflect who he was, demonstrating a level on individuality that none of the Ants had at first. Villain or not, Leol’s decision to change his name makes him one of the most human of the Ants.
Like many of the arc’s themes, the humanity inherent in having a name is most clear in Meruem’s character. I’ve already discussed his growth in depth, but this aspect deserves special attention. Prior to meeting Komugi, Meruem had never even thought about whether he had a name. He was the king, and that was his identity. After getting to know Komugi, Meruem actually began to wonder who he was beyond his role as king. His perception of himself was limited to his role as the king; he could identify himself by saying “I am the king,” but that only identified what he was, not who he was. Learning his name from Netero changed that. He could now say “I am Meruem,” which actually identified who he was as an individual, completely separate from his role as king. Learning his name was a crucial step in his journey toward humanity because it let Meruem identify himself as something beyond his position as king. It didn’t mean he was no longer the king, but it meant that he had an identity that wasn’t bound to being king.
Names play an interesting role in the Chimera Ant arc. The Ants start out not caring about names, only adopting them out of convenience, but gradually grow more and more attached to their names. Their growing attachment to what was originally a simple designation shows their growing individuality, a crucial aspect of their humanity. If the arc has one central theme, it’s humanity, and the role names play in the Chimera Ant society perfectly demonstrates this.