His name in the Nahuatl language is often translated as "Smoking Mirror" and alludes to his connection to obsidian, the material from which mirrors were made in Mesoamerica and which were used for shamanic rituals and prophecy. Another talisman related to Tezcatlipoca was a disc worn as a chest pectoral. This talisman was carved out of abalone shell and depicted on the chest of both Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca in codex illustrations.
He had many epithets which alluded to different aspects of his deity: Titlacauan ("We Are His Slaves"), Ipalnemoani ("He by Whom We Live"), Necoc Yaotl ("Enemy of Both Sides"), Tloque Nahuaque ("Lord of the Near and the Nigh") and Yohualli Èhecatl ("Night, Wind"), Ome Acatl ("Two Reed"), Ilhuicahua Tlalticpaque ("Possessor of the Sky and Earth").
When depicted he was usually drawn with a black and a yellow stripe painted across his face. He is often shown with his right foot replaced with an obsidian mirror, bone, or a snake—an allusion to the creation myth in which he loses his foot battling with the Earth Monster. Sometimes the mirror was shown on his chest, and sometimes smoke would emanate from the mirror. Tezcatlipoca's nagual, his animal counterpart, was the jaguar and his jaguar aspect was the deity Tepeyollotl ("Mountainheart"). In the Aztec ritual calendar the Tonalpohualli Tezcatlipoca ruled the trecena 1 Ocelotl ("1 Jaguar")—he was also patron of the days with the name Acatl ("reed").
The Tezcatlipoca figure goes back to earlier Mesoamerican deities worshipped by the Olmec and Maya. Similarities exist with the patron deity of the K'iche' Maya as described in the Popol Vuh. A central figure of the Popol Vuh was the god Tohil whose name means "obsidian" and who was associated with sacrifice. Also the Classic Maya god of rulership and thunder known to modern Mayanists as "God K", or the "Manikin Scepter" and to the classic Maya as K'awil was depicted with a smoking obsidian knife in his forehead and one leg replaced with a snake. Although there are striking similarities between possible earlier imagery of Tezcatlipoca, archaeologists are split in the debate. It is possible that he is either the same god that the Olmec and Maya reference with their "jaguar deity" or that Tezcatlipoca is a latter, more expanded version of the foundations the Olmec and Maya set, as the Aztecs often took inspiration from earlier cultures.