In Stephen Hero, an early version of what became Portrait, we find the surname written as "Daedalus," a more precise allusion to the Greek mythological figure (as Buck Mulligan puts it in Ulysses, "Your absurd name, an ancient Greek!") Upon significantly revising the mammoth Stephen Hero text into the much more compact A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce opted to shorten the name to "Dedalus".
Stephen Dedalus also appears in Ulysses as a parallel to Telemachus and, less overtly, Hamlet. He is the protagonist of the three preliminary chapters of that work, before Leopold Bloom is introduced, and his interactions with that character and his wife, Molly, form much of the final chapters' substance. Waking up and taking breakfast in the Sandycove Martello tower where he has been staying, Stephen discusses religion and the recent death of his mother with quasi-friend Buck Mulligan, who manages to offend Stephen before making plans to go drinking later that evening as they part ways. After teaching a history lesson on ancient Rome, the "Proteus" chapter finds Stephen ambling about the strand as both his pertinent and stray thoughts are related in the form of an interior monologue. After the intermission of many chapters concerning Bloom, Stephen returns to the fore of the novel in the library episode, in which he expounds at length to some acquaintances his theory of the obscurely autobiographical nature of Shakespeare's works and questions the institution of fatherhood, deeming it to be a fiction. He discredits his own ideas afterward, although this is perhaps illustrating his lack of self-confidence.
As a character, Stephen seems to parallel many facets of Joyce's life and personality. As if to further corroborate this, Stephen's first name comes from the first Christian martyr and, in a curious juxtaposition, his surname refers to the mythological figure Daedalus, a brilliant artificer who constructed a pair of wings for himself and his son Icarus as a means of escaping the island of Crete, where they were imprisoned by King Minos (who contracted Daedalus to build a Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur). Some critics suggest that Stephen's surname also reflects the labyrinthine quality of Stephen's developmental journey in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
The choice to use the name Dedalus also represents Stephen's wish to "fly" away from the constraints of religion, nationality, and politics which he feels hold him back artistically.
A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
Welcome O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
I fear those big words that make us so unhappy.