In "Good Country People," why does Joy change her name to Hulga?
Interestingly, O'Connor's selection of names for her characters works to establish their significance in the story. Joy Hopewell has changed her name to the ugly name of Hulga because she perceives nothing of beauty that exists in the world. Unlike her mother, Hulga does not believe in "good country people" and she feels herself intellectually superior to others.
However, her experience with Manley Pointer forces Hulga, who thinks that she can seduce him, to realize that her convictions about being able to control her life are, indeed, faulty. She has planned on seducing Manley Pointer, the false bible salesman. However, contrary to her expectations, it is Manley who reduces Helga to a begging woman after he takes her artificial leg and descends the ladder from the hay loft.
Helga tries to appeal to Manley's goodness, but he demonstrates to Hulga that he is the one who believes in nothing:
"I hope you don't think that I believe. I may sell bibles, but I know which end is up."
Manley Pointer has gotten Hulga to show him her leg, and he locks it into a suitcase and takes off. By stealing her leg, Manley exposes her weakness to her, her loss of intellectual pride. Now Hulga finally gains knowledge of evil from her humiliation.
In "Good Country People," the character known as Joy who changes her name to Hulga does so to reflect both her physical appearance and as a reflection of her soul. Hulga has a wooden leg, she is very detached from life, feels ugly and believes in nothing. She has no faith, not in God, not in man, and not in herself to be happy.
Hulga actually believes in viewing the world through negative eyes. Outwardly hostile to her mother, Hulga has gotten a PHD to set herself apart from others with the belief that she knows about life from having read the great philosophers.
Joy believes that by changing her name to Hulga, she is being more honest with herself. The brutal truth, stripped bare is what Hulga wants, she does not want to sugarcoat her life. It is what it is, she has a wooden leg and believes that her life will be limited and lonely.
"Indeed, she wants to make herself as unpleasant as possible, stomping about and being rude to everyone. She resents her mother not only because of her mother’s simplistic view of life but also because her mother does not accept her for who she is. “If you want me, here I am—LIKE I AM,” Hulga defiantly tells her."