Telemachus was a son of Odysseus and Penelope. He was only a baby when his father went off to the Trojan War, and as he grew up, his mother was besieged by suitors who were convinced that Odysseus would never return to Ithaca.

Telemachus was too young and weak to counter the suitors, so Athena instilled manly power into the growing boy. His name means 'far fighter', from tele, 'far' and mache, 'fight', 'battle'. This could refer to his father, who was a 'far fighter' in the Trojan War, or to his own special strength, given by Athena, to fight from afar for his father on behalf of his mother.

There have been attempts to make his name mean 'final battle', from teleo, 'to complete', 'fulfil', 'finish', but although this seems appropriate, Telemachus' name is spelt in Greek with the letter eta (η), not the letter epsilon (e), so that the 'far' sense is the better one.