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I remember in school being taught a literary device while studying Beowulf where a name is replaced by a description ("wave-rider" instead of boat, a weapon being "life-ender", etc). I cannot for the life of me remember what it's called.

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This is commonly called an epithet:

1a: a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing

You may also be thinking of a kenning:

: a metaphorical compound word or phrase (such as swan-road for ocean) used especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry

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  • Yes, kenning is the word I would use to describe this
    – TonyK
    Jul 9 at 20:40
  • Very interesting! Ken, is a Scottish or Northern England term, meaning, "range of knowledge or perception", which is in turn, related to the Old Norse word "kenna", which means, " to perceive"
    – C0ppert0p
    Jul 10 at 0:09
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    @C0ppert0p It's not just regional; phrases such as "outside one's ken" are fairly widespread in English (though perhaps not common). And there are many English cognates, including "can" and "know". Jul 10 at 2:31
  • @Chris Hampton All of the Greek gods had epithets. Their wikipedia entries typically list them in great detail. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes Jul 10 at 17:04

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